Abilene ranks highest in Child Abuse –
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Awareness leads to more reporting
Another potential reason for Region 2 having the highest rate of child abuse in the state is that people in the area are more attuned to the issue and report it more often, Greeley said.
“They may just be more aware,” he said. “So they tend to call it in more often, rightly or wrongly, whether it’s real or not.”
Greeley called this a “surveillance bias.” The “immediate response” to a public awareness campaign on recognizing child abuse and neglect would cause an increase in reporting the issue, he said.
“Much like when you’re trying to buy a new car, you then see it everywhere on the street, and that’s just a reality,” he said. “Maybe we’re just seeing it more often. Bias doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. It’s just a systematic skewing.”
Another consideration is that regions with large cities tend to have lower reporting rates, while regions that are more rural typically have higher reporting rates, said Sherrel Mathews, former Region 2 director for CPS.
“In the smaller areas, you have the opportunity to have better relationships with the partners in the community, and I think people are just more aware and see things and report,” said Mathews, who oversaw the region for 3½ years. “When you get to the Abilene region and our alleged rate being almost twice the state rate and our confirmed rate being more than twice the state rate, that I truly attribute to our working relationships in these communities.”
The alleged rate is the reporting rate, or the reports of potential abuse and neglect made to the statewide intake hotline. The alleged rate represents claims that have not been substantiated.
“It’s easier in Houston or Dallas for a family to get lost,” Mathews said.
Before Mathews became regional director, a high profile case, the 2012 death of 22-month-old Tamryn Klapheke, brought a lot of attention to Child Protective Services. It prompted changes to the way local entities work together to address child abuse and neglect, she said. Three local CPS supervisors were fired in the aftermath of the case, and two of the three were indicted on charges of tampering with evidence.
“From that point, that began a real big emphasis for us on really building those partnerships even stronger than they had been in the past,” Mathews said. “When you have those kind of strong working relationships with law enforcement, the school, your domestic violence community — the professional partners out there — you’re going to get more reports. But I also think it’s the common citizen in these communities, too, that is more aware.”
Police Chief Standridge agreed. He said he does not believe the region has more child abuse than any other, just more reporting.
“All law enforcement in the southern part of this region has direct access to CPS supervisors via cellphones,” Standridge said. “This may not be the case all across the state, but Abilene has worked diligently in recent years to cement strong relationships between the agencies.”
Law enforcement informs Child Protective Services when children are present during domestic violence investigations or in vehicles in which adult drivers are arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated or drug possession, he said. Two CPS investigators work out of the police department to streamline the investigative process.
“Proactive notifications drive numbers up, but all of Region 2 law enforcement will tell you that our children deserve such protections,” Standridge said. “Collaboration is a must, and it is done well in Abilene. When a child makes an outcry, investigators from the police department, CPS and (the Child Advocacy Center) will stand shoulder to shoulder and investigate the circumstances.”
Sgt. Craig Griffis, criminal investigations supervisor for the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, echoed Standridge, saying the stakeholders in this region work well together because they communicate often. Two CPS caseworkers are assigned to the sheriff’s office, and they conduct investigations alongside law enforcement.
The death of Tamryn Klapheke, which Griffis called an “eye-opening experience,” forced CPS workers and law enforcement to build better relationships, he said, adding that the relationship between the two entities has never been better.
He recalled a meeting in late July when the new Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner, Henry “Hank” Whitman, visited the Child Advocacy Center to speak with the staff and area law enforcement officers. Griffis said the commissioner applauded how well law enforcement cooperates with CPS and said that should be the standard across the state.
Whitman thanked the representatives at the meeting for their “cooperative working relationship with CPS” and their “obvious commitment to child safety,” said Patrick Crimmins, DFPS state spokesman, in an email.
“He’s had nothing but good things to say about the local commitment to child protection,” he said.