BRAZOS VALLEY, TX — April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Brazos County saw nearly 300 confirmed cases of child abuse just last year, and child advocacy groups want the community to be the change in these children’s lives.
At Prosperity Bank in Bryan, 663 pinwheels are currently on display, thanks to Scotty’s House child advocacy center. The pinwheels represent the number of confirmed child abuse cases across the Brazos Valley region for the year 2020.
According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services [DFPS], approximately 286 of those cases come from just the Bryan-College Station area.
So, what can be done to stop child abuse from happening in our homes and neighborhoods?
Experts such as Jennifer Smith, an investigative supervisor with Child Protective Services’ Bryan office, say speaking up and making a report is key; even if doing so is awkward or scary.
"It's not so much about getting a family in trouble, but maybe recognizing that something is going on that maybe hasn’t started before, or something is going on where assistance is needed," Smith said.
The signs of child abuse can be obvious, such as injuries or a direct outcry, but experts say that signs can be more subtle and behavioral, like changes in school performance, changes in mood, changes in sleeping habits, or bedwetting.
" You’re going to have a fear of a certain place or a certain person," commented Cassie Medlin, education and outreach specialist for Scotty’s House. "All of a sudden, you don’t want Grandma to pick you up from daycare. You don’t want to go home with your uncle, or go over to the neighbor’s house for some reason.”
Scotty’s House intercepts the region’s child sexual abuse cases. Medlin said there are ways parents can arm their children with the knowledge that can help protect them. She suggested parents use anatomically correct terms for genitals, and teach kids the ‘swimsuit rule,’ in which a child understands that whatever a swimsuit would cover is off-limits for anyone else to touch.
"We always teach children, you should have five adults you can trust and can tell," Medlin explained. "Because it may be one of those people in your network that could be the one hurting you, so you can go tell someone else.”
Jennifer Smith noted that community support for struggling neighbors and friends is key in lowering risk factors for child abuse.
"Sometimes it’s noticing when a parent might be overwhelmed and needing a break," she said. "Sometimes it’s noticing when a family is struggling financially. We’ve seen that a lot with the pandemic.”
It can be difficult to know sometimes when a line has been crossed, but Smith and Medlin urged all adults to speak out when suspicion arises, and not be afraid, as the one person to make a report could be a child’s only voice in crisis. DFPS encourages anyone who suspects abuse to contact Texas' abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400.
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