April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month, and according to local children’s advocate centers, this month opens the door for families and communities to understand the importance of working together to prevent child abuse through education.
Sharon Eubanks, CASA for KIDS CEO, said children face sexual, emotional and physical abuse daily, “and neglect is added into the abuse because of medical needs not being addressed.”
“The effects of abuse can be seen in children long past childhood,” she said. “Many victims of childhood abuse never tell of the abuse; as teens, they may become very angry; as adults, they may pass on the things that happened to them to their own children. Depression, grief, anger, all lead to long-term health and mental conditions, as well as drug and alcohol use and abuse.”
While April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, Children’s Advocacy Center of Paris Executive Director Rebecca Peevy said child abuse and neglect take on many forms, ranging from physical abuse, neglect, medical neglect, sexual abuse, exposure to sexually explicit material, exposure to drugs and witness to violence.
“Child abuse not only steals a child’s childhood but can have lasting, damaging effects throughout their lifetime,” Peevy said. “Not only can child abuse create lasting damage on a child’s health, but also their psyche. Being a victim of child abuse can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with higher rates of depression, anger, thoughts of suicide or self-harm than a child that has not experienced abuse.”
Eubanks said one of the most helpful tasks anyone in the community can do: report abuse.
“The child will feel like he is listened to and cared about,” Eubanks said. “The situation can be a healing time for a family if they take the time to fix the problems occurring before it is too late. Many thousands of dollars are spent by the Child Protective Agency for the care, education and counseling for family members. If they take advantage of this help, the family unit is a winner.”
Peevy said reporting abuse can make the biggest impact on a child’s life simply by starting the intervention and healing process.
“Adults do not have to have all the details or facts of the story to make a report – they only have to suspect,” Peevy said. “In Texas, any adult who suspects abuse is required by law to report the abuse to either law enforcement or the Child Protective Services Hotline number 1-800-252-5400. It’s incredibly important to report suspected abuse. You could be saving a child’s life by making a report.”
Eubanks said children have been languishing in the foster-care system, and “the focus on assisting foster children through the healing process and accessing quality services and the system was overwhelmed.
“Our purpose is to train professionals and to create professional advocates to improve their ability to inform victims of their rights, assist victims in recovery, and establish a permanent home for these child-victims and support other services who are striving to meet these goals,” Eubanks said.
Peevy said it takes a village to raise a child and to help create a safe environment for them to grow.
“I strongly believe in the partnership between families and communities coming together to raise awareness and prevent abuse,” she said. “Many times children may not feel completely comfortable telling their parents about abuse that has happened to them but they may feel comfortable telling a close family friend or relative.”
Peevy said “education is the best way to prevent child abuse from happening.
“It is estimated that for every adult educated on the signs of child abuse and how to prevent abuse, 10 children are made,” she said. “Social media has made it so easy for the community to help spread awareness. One super easy way is for people in our community to post or share posts about child abuse facts, how to report and how to support children who have made outcries of abuse.”
Peevy said social media has made it easy for the community to help spread awareness.
“One super easy way is for people in our community to post or share posts about child abuse facts, how to report and how to support children who have made outcries of abuse,” she said. “During the month of April, our CAC Instagram and Facebook pages will have various posts that can be shared.”
Other social media accounts Peevy recommends following to help spread the word during child abuse awareness month, alongside CASA for KIDS of Paris, are CACTX (Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas), Darkness to Light, and the National Children’s Advocacy Center.
In 2020, according to the Texas Family and Protective Services Data, Lamar County has investigated more than 680 children. Of those, Peevy said 217 children were confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect.
“Here at the CAC, we served almost 300 children in 2020 by providing child forensic interviews, trauma-focused counseling, family advocacy, and forensic medical exams,” she said.
Lamar, Delta and Red River counties house more than 180 foster children, whether they are in the care of foster parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, fictive kin or in child shelter/facilities.