Stephens County Judge Gary Fuller and the County Commissioners were approached by the Stephens County Welfare Board to sign a Proclamation acknowledging April as National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month. President Sharon Wimberley and other board members outlined the planned activities for the month which will begin with placing 156 small white crosses on the Stephens County Courthouse lawn Tuesday, April 1. They also will be tying 19 blue and pink bows and baby shoes to the trees to signify the 19 Foster Care children that are being cared for in homes in this county.
April 4 has been designated as Wear Blue day, which is used to symbolize the bruises left on a child after physical or any other type of abuse.
The Stephens County Foster/Welfare Board includes, Dana McKelvain, Kelly Farner, Jan Davis, Shirley Brandenberger, Anita Sheperd, Leslie Gomez, Ruth Taylor, Stephanee Russell, Julie Steif and Board President Wimberley.
Everyone remembers the sobering display of 212 white crosses displayed last year on the lawn of the Stephens County Courthouse. The good news is there were only 156 white crosses to paint and prepare this year, a decrease of 26.4 percent in deaths for 2013. The bad news is that the state of Texas is still ranked number one in child abuse and neglect deaths, which we all know is 156 too many and something all Texans should take on as a personal challenge.
Some shocking statistics that every Texan should be aware of is that in Texas:
• a child is abused or neglected every eight minutes.
• A child dies before his/her first birthday every four hours.
• The number of children who are victims of abuse and neglect in Texas was 63,474.
• The number of children placed in Foster Care in 2013 was 30,109.
• Children adopted out of Foster Care is 4,718.
• The average freshman graduation rate is 78.9 percent.
• Number of children and teens in juvenile residential facilities is 5,831.
• One of the most staggering statistic is that 328,712 grandparents are raising their grandchildren in the state of Texas.
• By May 2013, Stephens County had nine Foster Care children, which has now increased to 19 children and may increase even more during the year.
According to a study done in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, there is a higher rate of child abuse and neglect cases being reported by responsible citizens due to more focus on a child who is being abused or neglected. However, San Antonio also has higher rates of domestic violence, substance abuse and teen pregnancies, which all correlates with increased cases of child abuse and neglect. One inspiring note is that there was a drop of 50 percent for children who died at the hands of a caregiver in Bexar County during 2013.
Stephens County is not a huge metropolis like San Antonio but the increased drug abuse and teen pregnancies in this county correlates with more cases of child abuse and neglect that could be reported.
There are encouraging numbers across the state. In Harris County, which includes Houston, where 24 children died in 2013, down from 45 the previous year, which is a drop of 46.6 percent.
The obvious question is, what can you as an individual, do in your community to improve the lives of children in Stephens County?
• Teach your children how and when to call 9-1-1.
• Encourage your children to tell you of anything they encounter that makes them feel scared, sad or confused.
• Practice ‘what if' situations with your children.
• Make sure to praise your children each day for who they are and that they are precious to you and your family.
• Remind your children that it is OK to say NO to things that feel uncomfortable, scary or confusing.
• Make sure your children know and understand the safety rules for walking to and from school.
• Make every child that you encounter on a daily basis, feel safe.
• Report child abuse and neglect to the proper authorities by calling the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.
• Volunteer as a mentor to a young child in this community through Dr. Goodall's Mentoring Program.
• Volunteer at the Open Door facility in our community and help young single mothers and young couples learn to be better parents with Parenting Classes.
• Show your support for the Child Welfare Board and support Foster Care by wearing Blue on Friday, April 4.
• Find ways to help single mothers and young couples in the community through your church or in your neighborhood.
• Volunteer to keep children for a young family so they can have a quiet dinner out once a month.
• Find ways to serve that will be a help to others.
Please remember that our children are our future and the way they are treated as children will influence how they will act as adults. It will affect how they treat their own children.
The responsibility of every adult should be to love and protect our children. Adults must carry this forward to other children in their neighborhoods and those who they encounter on a daily basis in the community and in our churches. Hug a child today and everyday.