BRYAN, TX — When school campuses closed last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, children were no longer under the supervision of teachers, coaches, and counselors, resulting in a decrease in child abuse cases being reported over the course of the past year.
“Kids are still being abused, they are being victimized and they haven’t found a safe adult to tell,” said Cary Baker, Executive Director, Scotty’s House.
By the end of November 2020, Texas saw a 9% overall decrease in suspected child abuse cases according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. From March 2020 to November 2020, the state has seen a 55% overall decrease in child abuse reported by schools.
Cary Baker with Scotty’s House, a non-profit Child Advocacy Center for the Brazos Valley, says, locally, the decrease in reporting has been significant.
“It has been about a 30% decrease. We have had a few months where we have had a slight percentage increase, so I think the most we’ve had is about 5% over the previous year, but for the most part, the average is down about 30%, which is significant,” said Baker.
Just last month, a 4-week-old infant was taken to Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station from suffering serious bodily injury, resulting in skull, ribs, and leg fractures; the infant is currently on life support. Baker says, while reporting has decreased, there has been an increase in physical abuse reporting specifically.
“And what we have seen is a shift and the majority of the cases are physical abuse, and they are so much more severe than we have ever seen,” said Baker.
While Scotty’s House has seen a decrease in reporting for the Brazos Valley, Voices of Children, the Court Appointed Special Advocate program in the Brazos Valley, has seen an increase throughout the last year of children being removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect.
“We might normally, prior to COVID, receive an average of 6 or 8 cases a month, now we are receiving 14 to 16 and that’s held true for the last 10 months,” said Kimberly Martinez, Executive Director, Voices of Children CASA Brazos Valley.
Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott ended his executive order set last October, allowing all businesses to open to 100% capacity and ending the state-wide mask mandate. With the state set to reopen, the fate of child abuse reporting increasing is still largely unknown.
“There’s no longer a mask mandate, the state is opening up to 100% but we’re not really sure what’s that is going to look like,” said Baker. “Are day camps going to open up? Afterschool programs? Everything that has really been shut down, that’s what we need to open up. Spring Break camps, summer camps where kids get to interact with a trusted adult, that’s what we are really not sure about.”
Advocates ask the community to keep an eye on children and to report any suspicious behavior.
“If something doesn’t smell right, if something doesn’t look right, it may not be right. So, it’s just your responsibility to report,” said Martinez.
To report abuse visit www.txabusehotline.org or call 800-252-5400.
Common signs of child abuse include:
• Unexplained injuries
• Changes in behavior
• Returning to earlier behaviors, such as thumb-sucking and bed-wetting
• Fear of certain places or people
• Changes in eating
• Changes in sleeping
• Changes in school performance and attendance
• Lack of personal care or hygiene
• Risk-taking behaviors
• Inappropriate sexual behaviors
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