Sixty-six pairs of children’s shoes, ranging from glittering sandals to all-white sneakers, were placed in a neat square on the marble stairs of the State House on Thursday morning to symbolize the number of cases of child abuse and neglect in the Commonwealth every day.
At the base of the stairs, 40 preschoolers sat, reading children’s books. They represented a healthy approach to parenting.
The “Step Up for Prevention!” ceremony, marking the beginning of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, drew about 200 advocates and parents to Beacon Hill. They heard firsthand accounts of how programs that work closely with young families can pay dividends.
“We are truly helping these young moms break the cycle,’’ Suzin Bartley, a licensed clinical social worker and the executive director of the Children’s Trust Fund.
The $15 million statewide fund, derived from public and private money, pays for dozens of programs and training. It oversees the Healthy Families Massachusetts program, which conducts weekly or biweekly home visits to about 3,500 families across the state each year, starting with visits to expectant mothers and continuing through the child’s third year.
With 54 percent of the parents in the program having experienced child abuse or neglect during their own upbringing, the visitations are critical to end the cycle of abuse and neglect, Bartley said. Only 17 percent of the families enrolled in the program have reports of neglect, she said.
“If you are 16, it’s not great that you are having a baby,” Bartley said.” But if we can get in there and prevent you from having a second one, get a range of support so that you stay in school, set your own personal goals, then you can be successful.”
She also stressed the importance of training young parents on child development because age “zero to 3 is when the bulk of the brain develops.”
The program provides services worth about $3,600 per family annually.
When asked what could potentially happen without such a support structure, Bartley referred to the assault of a young mother Monday in the Savin Hill neighborhood.
Prosecutors said Samia Jones, 17, allegedly stabbed Angeleek Barros, 21, after Jones’s boyfriend, Daquan Sparks, lured Barros to the neighborhood with the promise of shoes for the infant.
Sparks has a 4-month-old child with Jones and an 8-month-old child with Barros. Sparks, 17, allegedly restrained Barros while Jones stabbed her six times.
Barros was pushing her child in a stroller when she was attacked, witnesses said. The baby was not hurt.
Jones was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault to murder and is being held on $50,000 cash bail. Sparks was arrested Thursday and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday. Jones has a juvenile record.
“This is what happens when there isn’t anyone, and that child, that small child, never got upset because he’s used to that level of chaos,’’ Bartley said. “That’s not healthy.”
While the Healthy Families home visit program aims to limit the cycle of abuse, it also teaches young mothers skills to be better parents and to continue their education.
Megan Scott, 21, said she was ostracized by peers when she became pregnant at 16. The child’s father abandoned their relationship in her final trimester.
“My home visitor taught me a lot, how to keep [her son] on schedule developmentally, and worked with us through the years,” Scott said. “It made me feel more confident as a parent.” Her son, Carter, turned 4 Thursday.
Scott went through paralegal training and now works at a law office in Springfield.
“No matter how strong you think you are, you need a support system,” she said.Brian Ballou can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBallou.
Correction: Because of an editing error, a photo caption in an earlier version of this story misidentified the agency Tom Weber works for. He is the acting commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care.