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Child Abuse Prevention Month brings plenty of burden to share

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

If the 93 residents of Domino in Cass County were to suddenly disappear, it would make headlines around the world. Yet more than twice as many Texas children died of abuse and neglect last year, and I doubt you've seen much about them.

It is human nature to pay more attention to things that happen all at once and ignore them when they trickle out. Otherwise we'd be more appalled that 212 Texas kids died at the hands of their parents and other caregivers in 2012.

This is why Child Abuse Prevention Month is so important. We need to be more appalled — about the number of deaths, the number of alleged victims of child abuse - 275,961; and the number of confirmed cases - 64,366.

That's an average of 176 kids every day who are beaten, slapped around, bullied, or emotionally terrorized into a life of dread.

Protecting children requires year-round vigilance, but Child Abuse Prevention Month gives us an opportunity each April to turn up the volume on public awareness. The idea is not just to make you mad that so many kids live in terror, but to spur some action that will continue after this one-month focus is over.

That's a goal of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, which I created in 2004 after the Christmas Day starvation death of 4-year-old Jovonie Ochoa by his grandmother. For almost ten years this group has been exploring and implementing new ideas about child abuse prevention. Its volunteers have walked numerous San Antonio neighborhoods and knocked on many doors, bringing a message of help and hope.

The Statewide Blue Ribbon Task Force, created through legislative action, has focused its efforts on coordinating the prevention efforts of existing agencies, programs, advocacy groups, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system.

Child Abuse Prevention Month also provides an opportunity to highlight legislative efforts, particularly regarding the agency that serves as our first line of defense — Child Protective Services.

I am sponsoring bills that would enhance training for CPS supervisors, limit the caseloads of investigators and other CPS caseworkers, and create a task force to examine hiring and management practices at the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees CPS.

This legislation is designed to increase efficiency while lowering the stress levels of CPS caseworkers, with the goal of lowering the agency's unacceptable turnover rate of 26.1 percent.

I also support an initiative by Sen. Jane Nelson, the Home Visiting Accountability Act, to ensure that home visiting programs are serving Texas children with the most need, with proven programs designed to protect them from abuse, improve parenting skills, enhance school readiness, and increase the positive function of families.

While I also support greater funding for prevention programs — which currently account for only 3.5 percent of the agency's budget — these bureaucratic changes could help CPS do a better job at protecting children, but they won't take us all the way to our goal. That's where you come in.

It's everyone's job to watch out for our kids, and that means you have a role to play. Wear a blue pin or ribbon this month — the international symbol for child abuse prevention — attend a prevention month event in your community, donate to your local children's shelter or battered women's shelter, be a CASA volunteer, keep a watchful eye on the kid next door.

Just don't wait for another 212 children to die before you get mad.

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©2012 Carlos Uresti Campaign  •  A.M. Hernandez, Treasurer  •  P.O. Box 240431  •  San Antonio, Texas  •  78224