Ice In Child’s Sock Drawer – Part 5

.jpg photo of Child Abuse map graphic
Abilene ranks highest in Child Abuse/neglect rate

Abilene ranks highest in Child Abuse –
neglect rate

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If it were up to Chief Standridge, more than just one month a year — April — would be dedicated to child abuse awareness.

Most cases involve neglect

CPS breaks down child abuse and neglect by 10 categories:  physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, abandonment, medical neglect, physical neglect, neglectful supervision, refusal of parental responsibility, sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

The most common form of child mistreatment — both nationwide and statewide — is neglectful supervision, Greeley said.  It comprises between 75 and 80 percent of all cases.

“This isn’t controversial, but people can debate it,” Greeley said. “There are a lot of families that struggle.  They struggle because of poverty or violence or circumstances that are beyond their control, and the question is at what point in time is that considered neglect? What point in time is that considered people just having a difficult life?”

Greeley, who is board-certified in both general and child abuse pediatrics, said many families struggle, and that is not something that should be reported to CPS.  Examples of neglect that should be reported include parents who leave their children at home to go out partying or parents who fail to supervise their children, who then end up wandering into traffic or away from home.

“There’s often judgment calls in neglect, which I think is where the challenge comes in,” he said.  “What’s reasonable and what’s not in places are often different.”

Mathews said cases involving neglectful supervision can be accompanied by other types of abuse.

“That’s the category that substance abuse-related cases fit into,” she said.  “A huge, huge percentage — the majority — of those neglectful supervision cases involve substance abuse.”

The region’s — particularly Taylor County’s — “aggressive approach to substance abuse” continues to drive up the number of cases, Mathews said.  That also is the most prevalent reason for having children removed from their homes, she said.

In those cases, Mathews said, the caseworker must determine whether the children are safe by evaluating the effect of the parents’ substance abuse on the child.  Typically, CPS will remove young children from homes in which parents are abusing drugs because those “little bitty” children are completely dependent on their parents for their care and supervision, she said.

“With meth, most of the cases that we see there is severe enough meth use that a short-term work with the families doesn’t seem to be enough,” Mathews said.  “Those are the ones we do have to then petition the court for temporary custody of the children and place them either in foster care or with relatives.”

Although neglectful supervision constituted almost 81 percent of child abuse cases across the Abilene region in 2015, other types of abuse still occur.

About 17 percent of cases that year fell under the physical abuse category, while nearly 8 percent involved sexual abuse, according to Department of Family and Protective Services data.

Sgt. Mike Moschetto, supervisor of the Abilene Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, said those are the cases his unit investigates alongside CPS, although he sometimes sees matters that do not rise to the criminal level.

“Any criminal investigations, it’s always physical and sexual abuse,” he said.  “I would say sexual abuse outweighs physical abuse in this county.”

A lot of physical abuse can be ruled out as discipline, Moschetto said, unless it is “extreme discipline.”

The majority of child abuse is committed by “family members or adults who have access to them, which could be boyfriends or girlfriends of the parents,” he said.  “It’s never ‘stranger danger.'”

‘It’s a community issue’

If it were up to Chief Standridge, more than just one month a year — April — would be dedicated to child abuse awareness.

“Child abuse knows no social demographic.  It occurs in families of all races and all economic backgrounds,” he said.  “Offenders are known to their victims because the abuse occurs in our homes.  We must now acknowledge that no family is immune from child abuse, and we must advocate awareness every month.”

County Judge Bolls said parents need to be educated early on and referred to programs that can help them before abuse or neglect occurs.  Early intervention is key to stemming the flow of child abuse, but it’s not always easy to identify the parents who need help. Some don’t want it.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know what it’s not, and that’s not to do anything,” Bolls said.

Derrick, the former CPS supervisor, said open communication and collaboration among community partners spur awareness of child abuse and neglect.  In the Big Country, an effort is made to treat child abuse as a community problem, she said.

“Child abuse is a problem for our community,” she said.  “It affects our kids in the education system.  It affects our kids in the juvenile justice systems.  It’s a community issue, not just a family issue.”

Like the adage says: It takes a village.

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