Child Abuse: A Silent Epidemic in Bexar County

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This year in Bexar County, 19 children suffered abuse-related deaths. Some 6,000 cases of child abuse were confirmed, meaning that one out of every 100 children in our community is a victim – the highest per capita ratio in the state of Texas.

The US Department of Health and Human Services states that victims of abuse experience devastating lifelong aftereffects, including depression, lower cognitive capacity, lower grades in school, and relationship difficulties.

Advocate Cathy Hamilton with CASA children Dameon, Nathian, Nazaree, and Navaeh. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

Advocate Cathy Hamilton with CASA children Dameon, Nathian, Nazaree, and Navaeh. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

Children who suffer abuse or neglect are 53 percent more likely to become juvenile delinquents, 38 percent more likely to be arrested as adults, and 38 percent more likely to commit a violent crime. Worst of all, research suggests that one-third of child abuse victims will perpetuate this cycle of violence by mistreating their own children.

Child abuse is a community problem that impacts and damages each of us, in a direct or indirect way. The subject is undoubtedly an ominous, overwhelming one, with no obvious silver bullet solution.

As difficult to broach as the topic is for adults, imagine what it means to be a child living in a situation of fear and danger. Should we leave these innocents to feel that fear on their own, or do we stand by them, lend them our voice, and speak out for them?

Theatre for ChangeIn order to bring attention to this ignored population here in our own city, Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) reached out to Theatre for Change to stage a groundbreaking television pilot called Region 8: True Stories From Texas’ Foster System.

The story offers a powerful look into the lives of three people who are brave enough to endure the heartbreak, and rejoice in the triumphs, of working as a CASA advocate, a foster parent, and a CPS investigator in a system that is seemingly broken from the inside out.   Sadly, there are not enough people volunteering their heart, time, and resources to serve as ground troops in a war made up of innocents.

Written by Texas Lutheran University professor Shannon Ivey, a native San Antonian and founder of Theatre for Change, and Windell Middlebrooks, star of ABC’s television series “Body of Proof,” Region 8 is based on the true stories collected from hundreds of interviews in one of South Texas’ worst foster care regions.

“I am a foster mother first and a storyteller second,” said Ivey. “I have witnessed firsthand the vulnerability of San Antonio’s most precious possibilities: children who would soar if someone simply believed in them.  Our aim with Region 8 is to put a face to an affliction and a story to a statistic.”

Advocate LeQuinne Ferebee with CASA children Kassandra, George and Alyssa. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

Advocate LeQuinne Ferebee with CASA children Kassandra, George and Alyssa. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

Middlebrooks will star in the piece, along with some of the most dynamic and familiar artists of San Antonio and Los Angeles, including Shelly Chance, Molly Cox, Jose Ruben De Leon, Mikala Gibson, Greg Hinojosa, Stephen Ivey, Ellie Leeper, David Legore, Jenni Morin, David Soop, Alyssa Tiemann, and Andrew Thorton.  Supported by the media direction of Terry Price, Ivey will be at the helm directing the project.

Funded in part by the Jack and Jesse Brown Endowment, Region 8 will run at Texas Lutheran University at 7 p.m. on April 4, 2014, and at The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre at 7 p.m. on April 6, 2014 (ticket prices vary).

The performance will highlight how regular individuals can help stem the tide of this epidemic of child abuse by volunteering their time as a foster parent or child advocate. It will drive home the point that every single person in this city has the ability to make a real difference in the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community. You personally have the ability to stand up for these children and for our community by becoming a Child Advocate.

Advocate Diane Hill with CASA children Jesus, Sergio, and Martha. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

Advocate Diane Hill with CASA children Jesus, Sergio, and Martha. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

The courts appoint a CASA volunteer to a child’s case. This person serves as the “eyes and ears” of the judge and provides recommendations based on the firsthand insight and information gained through spending quality time with the child.

Advocate Mignon Martin with CASA children Michael, Melissa and Jonathan. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

Advocate Mignon Martin with CASA children Michael, Melissa and Jonathan. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

For many abused children, their CASA volunteer is the one reliable adult presence in their lives. “To give a child a CASA is to give them a voice,” said Pamela, a former foster child. “To give them a voice is to give them hope, and to give them hope is to give them the world.”

Donating 15 hours of your time per month can affect real positive change – and not just in one child’s life, but in the whole of our county.

National statistics demonstrate that a child with a CASA volunteer is half as likely to re-enter foster care, substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care, and more likely to be adopted. He or she is 20% more likely to pass her school courses and more likely to receive medical and educational services.

Now more than ever, judges rely on advocates’ independent, impartial recommendations to speak to children’s needs and best interests. CASAs help to ensure that children neither fall victim to the cycle of abuse nor slip through the cracks of an overburdened system.

Judge Peter Sakai of the 225th District Court emphasized the importance of CASA’s role. “The best way to prevent child abuse is to stop the cycle,” the judge said. “Child Advocates San Antonio gives these young victims what no agency can: someone to speak up for them and someone to trust.”

CASA_LOGOBy the year 2020, Bexar County judges have requested that every child in the system receive a CASA volunteer. Today, two-thirds of children removed from their homes each year lack access to this critical opportunity.

“Child Advocates San Antonio is a volunteer driven organization whose primary responsibility is to advocate for the best interest of abused and neglected children who have entered the foster care system,” said CASA president and CEO Rick Cooke, “but unfortunately, the need for volunteers continues to grow. Because abuse and neglect of children is a community challenge, what better way to meet that challenge than through the mobilization of community volunteers?”

We all have the power to make a difference. To become heroes in our everyday life. And when we act, we are given the gift of knowing we changed the world around us for the better.

Advocate Jan Brown with CASA child Abby. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

Advocate Jan Brown with CASA child Abby. Photo courtesy of Will Langmore Photography.

A preliminary version of this article ran in the August 2013 edition of La Prensa.

Elisabeth Reise is the Recruitment and Training Manager at Child Advocates San Antonio and a graduate of Trinity University. For more information on volunteering, please visit the CASA website at www.casa-satx.org or call 210-225-7070.

 

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There are 8 comments

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  1. Don Mathis via Facebook

    We can begin to reduce this silent epidemic when we admit who are the perpetrators of child abuse. When a man abuses a child, we assume he is mad – as in angry. And when a woman is the abuser, we think she is mad – as in insane. Why the double standard? According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, http://archive.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm02/summary.htm, “Female perpetrators, who were mostly mothers, were typically younger than male perpetrators, who were mostly fathers. Women also comprised a larger percentage of all perpetrators than men: 58 percent compared to 42 percent.” A solution to child abuse can be sought only after a problem is admitted.

  2. Elisabeth Reise

    Judith-thanks so much for reading!

    Don-you are absolutely correct that child abuse is a multifaceted problem with several contributing factors. That same article acknowledges that over 80% of perpetrators were parents. Victims of child abuse are often raised by a single female caretaker, which explains why women comprise a larger percentage of all perpetrators. I’d love to see research on the difference in how a perpetrator is treated based on gender versus the extent of the injury. Thanks for reading and bringing this up!

  3. Bill Anderson

    Ms Reise
    You are quite right about the statistics.
    I have been involved in the system of this county for 10 years now.
    The research done in Texas on perpetrators, and my own findings support your statements.
    With one exception, the mother is more likely to be married and living with her husband.
    Biological mother,
    Between 26-34 y.o.
    Married (and not separated)
    With a documented history of abusing or neglecting a child previously.
    This last finding is an extremely frightening phenomenon.
    It means that 1. the person has already done these things,
    2. been in the system,
    3. and has not changed.
    The 4th point may seem counter -intuitive, but repeated analysis shows these people are better at hiding assault and starvation of their children while at the same time that there is less need for them to hid it.
    Once a child is returned to an abusive or neglecting biological parent there is a commitment by the court system and DFPS to avoid looking foolish. Further outcries by the child, no matter how obvious or horrific are almost never accepted as anything but lies put into the child’s head by the people who had rescued the child.
    It baffles humanity that even if true that negative comments against the abuser do occur, negative comments are thought such an evil that the child is sent back to the abuser even when the abuser has nearly killed the child over time.
    The abusive parent, now with the protection of the state is almost never confronted again over further out-cries. So for the research to show that MOST already have a history, there are far far more who go reported and yet uninvestigated, and the child suffers very painfully.
    Bill Anderson MD PhD

    • Edgar Martinez

      Edgar MartinezYour comment is awaiting moderation.
      Commented on December 31, 2013 at 9:13 AM | Reply
      Mr. Bill Anderson this story broke my heart, I am fighting the abuse and neglect of my own son, I been trying to protect my son since he was born, 5 years ago. My son was born with brain damage due to medical neglect. His mother don’t provide for him any neurological medical care and Therapies that he badly needs. Neither she provides basic hygiene, or protect him from witness her sexual activities, as a result my kid is traumatized in addition to small and grand ziezures that had extended his brain damage.
      It took me 2 years just to get the neurological test, because his mother denied he had a brain injury and she prevent me access to my son to take him to a specialist. The EE and TAC showed his brain damage is now much worse from when he was born, The Neuropediatrycian recommended antizeizure medication and a series of therapies for his educational and neurological deficits.

      My son and I are American citizens and I married my son’s mother in Eagle Pass Texas, but she lives in Mexico, trying to protect my son I filed for divorce in Bexar County and I got temporary custody but I didn’t know about The Haya convention exist, and my own Goverment with the State Deparmmment defended my wife free of charge, ( it cost me about 65000.00) a Federal Judge diecided that I should fight custody of my child in Mexico and I been doing that for 2 years, but the corruption and negligence of Mexican Official is unbelievable. I had to go to court to be able to get my son neurological tests, and after the EE and TAC shows my son needs medical attention and therapies her mother don’t allows the treatments, and the child protective services do nothing to protect my kid, neither the family judge, their negligence and corruption is incredible, they destroyed evidence that I introduce in court, because until recently before I got the test done, they said my son was healty.
      I need your advise, and I need to bring public attention to this case. I believe my son shouldn’t had been sent back to Mexico, because he is an American Citizen, and because some of the Therapies don’t even exist in Mexico, and her mother don’t even make the effort to give him the care he needs.
      Please help my Litle boy, his life is going to be pretty bad if the Govermment don’t allow me to provide for him medical attention.
      He has doble citizenship and US and Mexican Govermment has let him down. I have provided both courts with fotos, videos, documents, and medical diagnosis to document my son neglect.
      I will appreciate any advise.

      Thanks
      EDGAR MARTINEZ

  4. Bill Anderson

    Bro Martinez and others who are here today,
    I want to repeat that the issue is NOT complicated, and the legislature HAS passed laws designed to prevent children from being returned to violent and neglecting parents. The legislature must continue to pass laws until the courts get it finally.
    It is up to us to make sure the world knows.
    I want to commend Edgar for his bravery in sharing the details of his story. I don’t know him, so I cannot speak on the merits of his case.
    BUT his situation is real. The corruption, and so the physical danger to the child and to him, is REAL. In Mexico AND here in Texas, pompous and vindictive judges and court appointees do hate those who disagree, and do take revenge.
    However, sharing these events is absolutely necessary to fix the situation of child abuse, and the stupidity that arrogance, from power, brings.
    The first thing we must get the judiciary to understand is that, anyone who loves a child will not, CAN NOT, send him back to the adults who were in the household during the period when he was tortured and starved.
    This is fundamental to the word love, and to the responsibility of the courts, and child protective services.
    Sending a child back tells the child EXACTLY what is felt about him.
    Say this to a rape victim: Yes he raped you, and beat you, and brutalized you, but he loves you with all his heart, and now you must go and live with him and he will be in charge of your body. He will have the power to bathe you, or not. Feed you or not. Not rape you, or do. And the court is sending you there because we love you. He deserves another chance, and you will be helpless when he violates you again. But that’s okay, because women are are resilient and he says he won’t rape you again like he has all those days and nights before. We on the court are just too stupid, or too busy to do anything else but send you back.
    the issue is not complicated. STOP SENDING THE CHILDREN BACK.

  5. Really Your Honor

    The county judges
    always said,
    “We’ve no idea why this kiddo is dead.”
    And the county folk bowed low their heads.
    Some to snicker, some to dread.
    See, sometimes parents come to court,
    And say the other, coke, does snort,
    then ‘friendly’ Black Robes will retort:
    “Nope. Too lovely. Not that sort.”

    Or parents claim “I was at work
    when the one at home did go berserk.
    And if at night I would have woken,
    I couldn’t know those bones got broken!
    If I had I would have spoken!
    It would all my strength have sapped,
    his shin and thigh bones to have snapped.
    It must have happened when I napped
    after my boyfriend’s pot I tapped.”

    Long-term abusive malnutrition?
    Not with MY love and intuition!
    I was just young and impositioned.
    And you’ll believe me cause now I’m older
    (If you don’t look inside that folder
    with the photos so horrific,
    you’ll swear, that I, am just terrific!)
    And now Judge at his little school
    he breaks a very sacred rule
    by making me look very cruel
    by writing he’s afraid he’ll die.
    But we all know the reason why.
    Must be some foster parent lie!
    So in the manner of Bexarly thinking
    Black robes started quickly inking
    “This child, at mom’s, was starved and hit
    (but our cash backers would us quit,
    if we dare say she is unfit.)
    So, kind Fosters, give him back,
    (Yes mom, in the open, now him can smack)
    But don’t shake your head like we are on crack!
    It’s his high cost of living,
    to keep us, in the black.

    So the county’s folk, bowed low their heads,
    mom’s lawyer snickered,
    now my boy,
    is dead.
    We now must awaken,
    (cause this coffee sure smells.)
    JUDGES SENDING BABIES BACK INTO HELL
    WILL SNUFF OUT ANYONE AS WELL.


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