How it all began
It was 50 years ago that Claire Miles took it upon herself to do something about child abuse in Santa Barbara when she heard about a young father who was on trial for the death of his infant son.
She never envisioned her actions would lead to Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM), a countywide agency whose mission is “to prevent childhood trauma, heal children and families and build resilient communities throughout Santa Barbara County.”
“The young father was a 19-year-old student at Santa Barbara City College who was trying to study when the baby kept crying. He became so frustrated that he shook the baby and broke its neck. At the trial, he broke down crying and saying, ‘I had nowhere to turn,’ ” recalled Susan Miles Gulbransen, daughter of Mrs. Miles, during a recent interview with the News-Press. “Mother heard about it from a social worker she knew.
“Mom was familiar with child abuse from her days as a nurse at a hospital in Cincinnati. She would see children with bruises and burns, and their parents would make excuses for how they got them.”
In 1947, Mrs. Miles and her husband, Dr. Harold Miles, an anesthesiologist, moved to Santa Barbara.
“Dad worked in the emergency room at Cottage Hospital, and he would often see signs of child abuse, too, and the same excuses — the child had fallen, the child was playing with fire, and so forth,” said Mrs. Gulbransen, 77.
Mrs. Miles finally decided to do something about the problem when she heard about the young college student who accidentally killed his son when he shook him. She went to the county Board of Supervisors to ask for help, but they rebuffed her, saying that Santa Barbara didn’t have child abuse, according to Mrs. Gulbransen.
Undeterred, Mrs. Miles decided to take immediate action by putting a phone in her living room and paying for classified ads in the Santa Barbara News-Press urging parents in need to call for help.
“The ad read, ‘Anyone knowing about child abuse in Santa Barbara should call Mrs. X anonymously.’ It ran for a month. Half the calls were from people who knew about problems, and half were from people needing help,” said Mrs. Gulbransen.
The phone rang almost 40 times that month. Mrs. Miles and her friends took turns answering the calls, with the hope of helping stressed parents before they hurt their children.
“As I recall, the Women’s Medical Auxiliary (for the Santa Barbara County Medical Society) backed her up and were extremely helpful,” said Mrs. Gulbransen. “They volunteered to man a 24-hour hotline — there were no cellphones or answering machines back then — and they provided information for referral services.”
When the calls kept coming, Dr. Nils Bolduan, a prominent pediatrician in the community, was instrumental in the formation of a nonprofit to deal with child abuse in 1970.
“I think he was the one who suggested the name, Child Abuse Listening Mediation, CALM, for short, and its focus would be on prevention, rather than treatment, of child abuse,” said Mrs. Gulbransen.
Before her death in 1998 at the age of 85, Mrs. Miles was able to witness that the life-saving phone in her living room had grown into CALM that will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. There are now more than 100 employees whose sole purpose is to prevent and eliminate the effects of child abuse by offering the following services:
Early childhood prevention and intervention
Parenting and family programs
Childhood trauma treatment
Intensive family services
Community strengthening collaborations
Every year, a Claire Miles Award is presented at the Celebrity Authors Luncheon held in March. Recipients are honored for their outstanding dedicated service to the CALM children of Santa Barbara County. Martha Rogers was this year’s honoree.
“My sister, Elizabeth Jacobelli, found an interesting sentence in Mom’s journal on the project. I don’t know if it’s her wording or a quote, but it applies to all she did. ‘Never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done,’ ” said Mrs. Gulbransen.
After moving back to Santa Barbara in 1980, Mrs. Gulbransen, who had been a flight attendant with Pan Am, became active with CALM as a member of the board of directors and eventually president for two years.
“Even though I had other nonprofit projects after that, I continued to be partially involved with CALM, as are most former board members,” said Mrs. Gulbransen, a local columnist who also teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.
“About three years ago, I was asked to come back on the board, which I found to be a different organization taking new paths — different ways of dealing with prevention and treatment of child trauma and how to make CALM active in all of Santa Barbara County.
“What has really been hitting me (after doing this interview) is how many hundreds if not thousands of people have become involved with CALM over all these years. It’s one of the most successful and necessary grass-roots organizations. The many volunteers and staff have been passionate to help children grow up with a less traumatized childhood into a thriving, natural adulthood.”