April named child abuse awareness month

A display on the Cooke County Courthouse lawn depicts the number of Cooke County children in foster care in 2018. Elected officials, law enforcement, Child Protective Services workers, Child Advocacy Center volunteers and staff, and CASA volunteers, staff and board members are standing with the display.

County officials recently recognized April as Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month and thanked volunteers with CASA of North Texas and other organizations for their efforts to protect abused and neglected children.

On Monday, April 8, Cooke County commissioners recognized the efforts of all involved, from professionals with Child Protective Services and law enforcement to volunteer advocates, staff and board members of CASA of North Texas and the Cooke County Child Advocacy Center.

District Judge Janelle Haverkamp of the 235th District Court in Gainesville also signed a similar proclamation Wednesday, April 3. 

To bring awareness to just how child abuse touches even small counties such as Cooke County, CASA of North Texas and other organizations undertake various activities to bring attention to the reality of child abuse. This year, as others, CASA of North Texas has set up a display on the courthouse lawn indicating the number of Cooke County children that have been taken into foster care because of abuse or neglect.

“We set up the display to give Cooke County the visual of just how many of our children had to have protection by the state. There were 229 in 2018,” Vicki Robertson said. Robertson, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), said a photograph shows the display as well as CPS professionals, law enforcement and volunteers involved in helping the affected children.

“There aren’t enough of any of us, but I can tell you this… to a person, everyone in these photos does everything they can to protect the children under their watch,” she said

In all, 66,382 Texans under the age of 18, including 715 in Cooke County were confirmed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as victims of child abuse in 2018, according to a press release from CASA of North Texas. Last year’s 229 Cooke County children in the child welfare system were double the average number of Cooke county children needing protection in district court just six years ago, according to the organization.

One Cooke County child died as a result of abuse/neglect in 2018, Robertson said.

Robertson advised that members of the public can help reduce the number of children being abused or neglected.

She advised people to pay attention to children around them, whether in the neighborhood, at church or among their children’s friends, and take note if signs of abuse are present.

Signs of child abuse and neglect include unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes; fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school; a child who seems frightened of parents or protests or cries when it is time to go home; a child who shrinks at the approach of adults or who reports that he or she is being abused.

Signs of neglect include frequent absences from school; a child begging or stealing money or food; a child who lacks medical or dental care, immunization or glasses; a child who is consistently dirty or who has severe body odor; one who lacks sufficient clothing for the weather; one who abuses drugs or alcohol; or one who states there is no one at home to provide care.

Indicators of problems with parents or caretakers include failure to adequately explain a child’s injuries, consistently describing a child as “evil” or in some other negative way, using harsh discipline with the child and having a history of abuse as a child.

CASA of North Texas also advised that people consider the possibility of neglect when a parent or other adult caregiver appears to be indifferent to the child, seems apathetic or depressed, behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner or is abusing alcohol or other drugs.

State law requires that those who suspect child abuse or neglect report it. The child abuse hotline number for Texas is 1-800-252-5400. The names of reporters are kept confidential and reports may be made anonymously as well.

Parents who are struggling are advised to get help, perhaps by talking to a friend, a minister or a teacher. The National Child Abuse Hotline lends support to parents as they navigate the sometimes difficult times of parenting. The number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD and is answered at all times.

Those interested in volunteering may also get involved with CASA of North Texas. CASA advocates undergo 30 hours of training and in-depth background checks, then are sworn in by the district court to advocate for the best interests of abused children within the foster care and legal systems. They investigate child abuse cases assigned to them by the court, monitor the progress of the parents and the condition of the children and report their findings back to the court. Prospective volunteers may call the CASA office at 940-665-2244 or visit the agency’s website at www.casant.org.

The Department of Family and Protective Services also needs volunteers and donations in a number of areas, according to CASA of North Texas. Those who are interested may call the local CPS office at 940-665-9315. Abigail’s Arms, which also helps families in cases of sexual abuse and domestic violence, is also seeking volunteers and donations; for information, call 940-665-2873.

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