Tag Archives: Law Enforcement

Kids Count In Abilene TX

.jpg photo of Child Abuse semenar
Dr. Jamye Coffman, medical director of Cook Children’s Medical Center’s C.A.R.E. Team.

Hendrick seminar examines Child Abuse

Abilene, TX  –  Knowing if a child’s injuries constitute abuse can be a difficult task, requiring medical personnel and others to step back and see if the facts fit, said Dr. Jamye Coffman, medical director of Cook Children’s Medical Center’s C.A.R.E. Team.

“Does the story they’re telling of the fall off the bed, the turning on the hot water accidentally, whatever it is, does that fit with what you’re seeing?”  Coffman said after her talk, “Recognition and Evaluation of Child Abuse,” at Hendrick Medical Center on Thursday.

Coffman spoke Thursday at “Kids Count…On Us: A Conference on the Prevention of Child Abuse.

The idea for “Kids Count” grew from an “alarming increase in child abuse cases in our area,” according to information provided by Hendrick.

“We feel like this needs to be offered in our community and information needs to be given out to everyone, not just nurses but law enforcement, Child Protective Services, social workers, and people in our community that deal with these problems every day,” said Susie Striegler, sexual assault nurse examiner program coordinator.

This year’s conference included presentations on babies born addicted, recognition and evaluation of child abuse, interdiction for the protection of children and sex trafficking in Texas.

Those trying to ferret out the truth of an injury must know if a child’s injuries are consistent with the history of the case, consistent with the child’s developmental level, and whether or not the history is constant over time, Coffman said.

One must also consider any potential delay in seeking care, possible triggering events and overall timing, she said.

WITH NO HISTORY

A problem is that often, children come in with no additional or known history, she said, something that “really hamstrings the medical staff because they’re having to figure out what’s wrong with this child with no information,” Coffman said.

“We never know what we’ll see when we’re called in,” Striegler said.
Certain injuries, though, can provide clues – bruising patterns, for example.

“Accidents happen, but the child has to be old enough to get into the accident,” Coffman said after her talk.  “If you have a child that is non-mobile – they can’t crawl, they can’t walk, how are they going to get hurt?  And if they do get hurt, somebody knows.  They can’t get back up into the crib, somebody has to pick them up and put them back.”

There’s really no such thing as a person’s rank outstripping anyone else, she said, at least when it comes to this issue, she said.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, if you have concerns, you have to make the report,” Coffman said, recalling times when nurses correctly expressed concerned about possible abuse when physicians didn’t.

“It takes that investigation to know if it is or isn’t (abuse),” she said, a process that begins with an individual following through on initial concerns.

EFFECTS DIFFER

Abuse can affect a child in a variety of ways, Coffman said.

We know that abuse is toxic stress,” she said.  “We know that it has the potential to have effects down to the cellular level”.

That includes brain structure – “how the brain grows or doesn’t grow, what neurons are created, what connections are created,” she said.

Abuse can create changes at the hormonal level because of the stress hormones, she said.

“It can create risk for chronic health conditions later in life,” Coffman said.

Abuse can even create change at the genetic level, she said.

“There are what is called epigenetic modifications, so it can even change gene expression, which can be generational,” she said.

Such considerations make intervention “extremely important from a public health standpoint – not only moral and ethical,” Coffman said.

“If you get the intervention, if you make the report, the child gets the help they need,” she said.

Without such help, “there’s no hope,” she said.

Appropriate intervention can also open positive doorways for parents, Coffman said.

“Parents of these kids, I think sometimes we have to look at their past, and instead of saying ‘what’s wrong?’ (ask) ‘what happened to you?’” she said  “That can open up the conversation.”

And that means those parents may be open to more help, including learning “different ways to parent,” Coffman said.

If they’re willing to do that, then “perhaps we can stop the cycle” of abuse, she said.

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

~ continued ~

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.

Ice In Child’s Sock Drawer – Part 4

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

Abilene ranks highest in Child Abuse –
neglect rate

~ continued ~

Regional approach raises reporting

Judge Paul Rotenberry of the 326th District Court has seen an increase in child abuse cases.

He has experienced such a surge that other courts are “catching the overflow,” he said.  Weekly, other judges must stand in for him because his docket is so full.

As the family court judge, Rotenberry handles Child Protective Services cases, including those in which the agency believes a child should be removed from the home.  Emergency removals, which is when CPS investigators determine a child’s environment is dire enough that there is not enough time to get a court order for removal, must be heard within 14 days of removal.

“The circumstances are so bad that they’ve got to make an immediate removal,” Rotenberry said.

Since he took the bench Jan. 1, 2015, the number of emergency removals, which usually involve multiple children, have more than doubled.

Emergency removals in Taylor County:

  • 2013 — 103
  • 2014 — 112
  • 2015 — 230
  • January-September 2016 — 191

Bolls, the county judge, said the problem is significant enough in Taylor County that the Commissioners Court plans to petition the Legislature to place a court here dedicated solely to CPS cases.

At a request by the district attorney’s office, the Commissioners Court last year added another prosecutor position to help handle the CPS caseload.  Now there are three assistant district attorneys in Taylor County who prosecute CPS cases.

Rachal Blake is one of those prosecutors.  She has been with the district attorney’s office since 2014.

“It probably took me five months to get caught up to the pace I’m at today because it was so backlogged,” Blake said.  “I was working late every night, coming in on weekends, and it was still super backed up.”

She said the third position was “desperately needed” due to the exponential increase in CPS cases, most of which are related to methamphetamine abuse.  There are so many cases, Blake said, they “crowd out the docket” in the 326th District Court.  And that’s not the sole purpose of that court.  It’s for all family law matters, including divorces, adoptions and custody matters.

“The big increase that I saw came around February of last year,” Blake said.  “It was always busy, but we didn’t have the docket problem that we have now.  A whole court set aside just for CPS could be very beneficial to the county.”

The rise in CPS cases could be a result of more abuse and neglect, or it could reflect the region’s approach to child maltreatment, said Greeley, who serves as co-chairman of the Texas Pediatrics Society committee on child abuse and neglect.  He also is incoming president for the Helfer Society, the international society for physicians practicing in the field of child abuse and neglect.

“These are human beings from CPS workers to judges who don’t have truly objective scales, and they have to decide yes or no,” Greeley said.  “There could be regional differences in saying yes versus saying no.”

For instance, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was accused of child abuse in 2014 after disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch at his home in Spring.  He agreed to a plea bargain that reduced his felony child abuse charges to a single charge of reckless assault, a misdemeanor, The New York Times reported.

Greeley said the incident occurred in an area of the state where the idea of whipping a child with a switch would be considered child abuse.  In other parts of the state, that would have been “well-accepted parenting” that did not raise any red flags.

“That’s just an example of how regions handle the very same thing differently,” he said.  “Neither is right.  Neither is wrong.  They’re just different.”

Meth use ‘explodes’

Rotenberry said 2016 is set to surpass the previous year’s number of emergency removals.  He credits the increase to more CPS investigators in the area and “the absolute explosion of methamphetamine.”

“My guess is that 90 percent of cases filed involve meth, and probably 80 percent of those have children testing positive for meth,” he said.  “If meth’s involved and the parents are taking care of the kids while they’re high, we’re going to remove those kids.  And if the children are testing positive for meth, that’s a no-brainer.”

Rotenberry said he initially worried that the rise in removals was a result of the change in judges.  He said he eventually dismissed that concern after seeing child after child test positive for meth.

“You could have any judge sitting here,” he said.  “There’s basically no discretion.”

Angela Derrick, a former CPS supervisor who worked for the agency for seven years, said the biggest issue right now with children entering foster care is substance abuse.  Derrick currently is the director of social services at Christian Homes & Family Services, an adoption and child-placement agency in Abilene.

“We had a foster parent who was interviewed a few weeks ago who said eight of their nine placements were drug-exposed children,” she said.  “That seems to be a very common theme among CPS cases and the number of children who are in foster care right now.”

The drug most parents are using is methamphetamine, Derrick said. When children are exposed to that, health, behavioral and educational issues can arise, especially if the children are exposed while the mother is pregnant.

Both Rotenberry and Derrick attributed the accessibility of methamphetamine to the high number of children being removed from their homes by CPS in Taylor County.  Derrick said the fact that Interstate 20 runs through town makes Abilene a big, red bull’s-eye for drug traffickers.

Plus, Rotenberry said, it’s so easy to find how to make meth and so cheap that it seems impossible to rein in its hold on users.

“When everyone can be a chef, how do you stop the cooking?” he said.

The judge said some cases involve heroin, but overwhelmingly the problem is meth.  Most cases entail parents who cannot take care of their children because they are high on meth, and there is no food in the refrigerator or pantry.  The children are not getting to school. They do not have what they need, and they are left home alone.

Because of how meth affects the brain, rehabilitation is extremely difficult, Rotenberry said.  Some users lose all ability to be rehabbed, he said.

“We know what it does with adults.  But what about these kids? What type of future do they have and what type of future does that mean for society?” he said.  “These are the things that keep me up at night.  How can we take care of the children that are here through no fault of their own?  They’re not choosing to use meth.”

Ice In Child’s Sock Drawer – Part 3

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

Abilene ranks highest in Child Abuse –
neglect rate

~ continued ~

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.

Ice In Child’s Sock Drawer – Part 2

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

Abilene ranks highest in Child Abuse –
neglect rate

~ continued ~

Small population distorts rate

The Department of Family and Protective Services, the state agency tasked with protecting the health and safety of children and adults, divides the state into 11 geographic regions.  Child Protective Services is one of five programs under the DFPS umbrella.

The headquarters of Region 2 is in Abilene, with the region extending north to Wichita County, south to Brown County, west to Scurry County and east to Eastland County.  It has the smallest child population, through age 17, of all 11 regions — 131,651 in 2015.

The most populous region is Region 3, which includes Dallas-Fort Worth, with a child population of almost 2 million.  Its 2015 rate of child abuse and neglect was 9.4 cases per 1,000 children, or 18,571 confirmed victims.

The only years in the past eight that Region 2 has not had the highest rate were 2009 and 2010, according to DFPS statistics.  The region surpassed the other 10 regions in the state from 2007 to 2009 and again from 2011 to 2015.

From 2007 to 2015, the Abilene region had the highest reporting rate of any of the regions, according to DFPS statistics, even if it did not have the highest rate of child abuse and neglect.  The reporting rate represents the number of claims made that have not yet been investigated.

Chris Greeley, chief of Public Health Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and pediatrics professor at Baylor College of Medicine, said there could be various reasons for Region 2’s high rate.

Because of its small child population, any increase in the number of child abuse or neglect cases in Region 2 would result in a bigger climb in the rate than in Region 3, for example, because it is about 10 times the size of Region 2, Greeley said.

“Any changes are much more apparent statistically,” said Greeley, who holds a master’s degree in clinical research.  “Part of it looks really disproportionate because the denominator is so small compared to all the other regions.”

The region next closest in size to Abilene’s is Region 9, whose headquarters is in Midland.  Region 9 includes 30 counties with a child population of 159,694 in 2015, yet its rate of child abuse and neglect for that year did not come close to Region 2’s — 11.2 confirmed cases per 1,000 children.  That is 1,789 children, almost 1,000 fewer victims than in the Abilene-Wichita Falls region.