When COVID-19 swept the nation last spring, experts grew concerned that school closures, stay-at-home orders and heightened stress levels would lead to a huge spike in child abuse cases. As the long months of the pandemic have passed, sadly this prediction seems to have been correct.
The toll of the pandemic is something Vero Perez, a program supervisor at Lumin Bachman Lake Community School—a partner organization of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas—has seen first-hand. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a change in many of our family’s daily lives. Many are experiencing anxiety about the family’s health and safety, along with the negative emotional impacts of physical distancing. Some are facing much more extreme hardships, such as the death of a loved one, isolation, or risk of poverty and homelessness.”
These types of stressors can take a serious toll on parents. All too often, young children, who are spending more time than ever at home with their overburdened parents and other caregivers, bear the brunt of growing frustration and lost tempers.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to shine a light on the ongoing tragedy of child abuse. It’s a topic that we at United Way focus on throughout the year, since we understand that a safe, supportive home environment gives children the foundation for a healthy future.
Read on to learn more about the state of child abuse in Texas, as well as what each of us can do about it, especially during this emotional and stressful time.
Child Abuse Is All Too Common in Texas
Even before the pandemic, the statistics on child abuse in our state were gut wrenching. Unfortunately, the numbers for 2020 were even worse than the previous year due to a variety of factors, including rising unemployment, school closures and children spending more time at home, and an uptick in alcohol and drug use among parents.
In Texas during fiscal year 2020, 251 children died due to abuse and neglect, according to the state Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)—a nearly 7 percent increase over 2019. DFPS says most of the increase in 2020 resulted from neglectful supervision, including 28 children who died in vehicle-related incidents, eight of whom were children left in hot cars, and eight youth who died by suicide, even though people around them knew of their concerns yet didn’t offer help.
Sadly, our region ranked among the worst areas in Texas for child abuse and neglect in 2020. Dallas County had the second-highest number of child fatalities in the state, with 24, and Dallas-Fort Worth had the highest number of near child fatalities, with 22.
Throughout the year, 7,145 children were confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Dallas County. That’s nearly 20 per day.
Abuse and neglect can happen to children of every age, race and socioeconomic background. But younger children and children of color are the most common victims. In 2020, children 3 years of age and younger accounted for nearly 80 percent of all confirmed child abuse and neglect fatalities. Most of the Texas children who died from abuse or neglect were too young for school and not enrolled in daycare.
Last year, Hispanic children accounted for the largest percentage of Texas children who died from abuse or neglect. However, the per capita rate for Black children who die from maltreatment continues to be higher than any other ethnicity in Texas.
These troubling trends are reflected in the child fatality demographics in Dallas County. In 2020, 50 percent of the children who died from abuse and neglect were less than 1 year old. More than 58 percent were Black, and nearly 38 percent were Hispanic. The vast majority of child fatalities—more than 70 percent—were boys.
The True Numbers May Be Even Higher
Although the statistics on child abuse are already staggering, experts warn that the figures for 2020 may be even higher than what has been reported.
School closures are one big reason behind this concern: In a typical year, teachers and school officials make about 20 percent of all child abuse reports. With the 2019-2020 school year shortened and many students still learning remotely, educators don’t have as much visibility into their lives as they used to.
History tells us that child abuse and neglect can increase significantly during periods of economic strain. During the Great Recession, for example, child abuse cases increased by more than 450 in Dallas Countyfrom 2008 to 2009, and the numbers remained elevated until the economy began to recover.
United Way Works to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect
At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we want to prevent this type of violence before it ever happens. We work to ward off child abuse and neglect by providing a variety of education and support services to parents. During the pandemic, our programs have pivoted to providing virtual services, resources and support to families.
Two of our programs focus specifically on supporting families to prevent child abuse and neglect:
Healthy Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES)
HOPES helps local parents create home environments in which young children can thrive. Working with clinics, organizations and government agencies, the program seeks to reduce instances of child maltreatmentby helping improve parenting skills through instruction, support and connections to community resources.
Texas Home Visiting Program (THVP)
THVP helps good people become great parents. This free program for soon-to-be-parents and those with children under the age of 5 matches Dallas and Collin County families with a trained home visitor—a nurse, experienced parent, trained professional or volunteer—to answer questions, offer advice, provide support and teach parents how to prepare their kids for kindergarten.
Our work in this area is made possible by the following partner organizations, which are doing amazing work to support and strengthen families in North Texas:
- AVANCE-North Texas
- Dallas Independent School District HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters)
- Family Care Connections
- Family Compass
- Lumin Education
- Parkland Period of Purple Crying
- Parkland Nurse-Family Partnership
Programs like HOPES and THVP can have a profound impact on families who are feeling stressed and exhausted by the COVID-19 crisis. As Vero Perez from Lumin Bachman Lake Community School explained, “We want to support each one of our families. We have seen that even the smallest act of care helps in renewing their strengths as an individual. Parent educators come into their homes virtually, and parents express their gratitude toward the parent educators.”
One family shared, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parent educator for the effort she puts together to teach my child. Preparing lessons, making my child learn through fun—all this through distance learning. It is very difficult to teach such small kids online. However, she is making sure that my child gets proper attention, and the learning is smooth.”
How You Can Help
During this fraught time for Texas children, you can help prevent child abuse and neglect by supporting families right here at home. Here are a few ways to get involved:
To recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we’re offering two ways to support local families throughout April:
- Donate to our Baby Safety Drive: We’ve made it easy to donate diapers, baby-proofing supplies and other safety items to local families: Simply visit our Amazon Wish List and choose the items you would like to donate. Donations will be distributed to the 580 families who are part of our HOPES and THVP initiatives.
- Host your own community diaper drive: Support our HOPES and THVP families by organizing your own diaper drive and ask your neighbors, friends or coworkers to get involved. Get tips for hosting your own diaper drive here.
Make your voice heard! Ask members of the Texas legislature to continue to fund programs focused on prevention and early intervention for families and young children. Click here send a message—it only takes a minute or two!
When you invest in United Way, you create lasting change right here at home. Your donation will help support programs like HOPES and TVHP and help put opportunity in the hands of all North Texans. Click here to donate.
Suspect Child Abuse?
If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services toll-free at 1-800-252-5400, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also file a report via their Abuse Hotline website.
For parents who are struggling with keeping their children safe and healthy during COVID-19, we’ve put together a list of resources and tips for how to parent safely.
This article was published on: Apr 1, 2021