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CPS official: Child abuse in Southeast Texas getting worse
BEAUMONT - by Lauren Huet
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and a recent case is on many Texans' minds. Last week, a 5-year-old boy from Spring, Texas, was found beaten and severely malnourished in a closet under the stairs.
CPS took the five-year-old into custody after his sixteen-year-old brother found him in a small closet under the stairs. Police say the boy was in a diaper and covered in bumps and bruises. His bones were sticking out and his skin was coming off of his back. Many are outraged at the boy's father and stepmother, both have been arrested and charged with felony child endangerment.
"Children are always abused by someone that they know. It's not a stranger, it's someone that's close to the family, it's someone that's usually living in the home with them," said Shari Pulliam with CPS.
Pulliam says cases of child abuse in Southeast Texas are getting worse.
"Physical abuse has just gotten out of hand," said Pulliam. "Five, ten years ago we thought that we saw a lot of really bad physical abuse cases. It seems like we're seeing more and more every day. The abuse is getting more severe."
She says the best way you can help is to report suspected child abuse.
"If we don't know it, we can't do anything about it. And somebody might say, well I reported that last year and nothing was done. You really don't know what was done behind the scenes," said Pulliam. "We encourage you to keep reporting it over and over again."
Signs of child abuse include repeated marks and bruises and a change in the child's behavior, or the child withdrawing. Pulliam also says, if you know a child lives in a home, but you never see the child playing outside, that's a red flag.
"That was the case in Kountze," said Pulliam, referring to a child abuse case in 2011. "That child was hardly ever seen playing outside. Neighbors said later, 'you know, we thought about that. We never saw the child playing outside.' We wish they had made a report then instead of waiting until it was too late."
Too late, because the four-year-old girl died. Investigators say the girl had numerous bruises and cigarette burns from head to toe. CPS says she had suffered months of physical and sexual abuse. The girl's mother and boyfriend were arrested and charged with first degree injury to a child.
Although the number of child deaths in Texas due to abuse or neglect has decreased during the past couple years, Pulliam says it's not enough.
"156 children is still a lot of children that are dying from child abuse and neglect every year," said Pulliam. "We would love to see that number at zero one year."
In 2011, 231 children in Texas died from abuse or neglect. In 2012, 212 kids died. Last year, 156 Texas kids died at the hands of their parents or caregiver. More than 17,000 children in Texas had to be removed from their homes in 2013.
"We've got 287 children in the foster care system in Jefferson County. That number is not decreasing, that number is increasing," said Pulliam. "That's children that aren't being able to live in their homes anymore because of abuse and neglect."
If you would like to help, you can donate to Child Protective Service's Rainbow Room. An emergency supply room case workers access when they remove children from their homes. They need donations of diapers, baby formula, new childrens' clothing, bottles, car seats, and other supplies.
You can also volunteer with CPS or with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Southeast Texas. Judges appoint CASA volunteers to look out for children's best interest in cases where the child has been taken into CPS custody. The executive director, Eleanor Johnson, says they need volunteers.
"We're that voice. We're standing up and telling the judge, this is what we've seen at the foster home, this is how that child is being treated in the foster placement, this is what's happening with the child in school, this is what's happening when the child is visiting with their parents," said Johnson.
To raise awareness, CPS is holding a child abuse prevention walk April 9th, and dedicating it to child abuse survivor Baby Faith. The walk begins at noon at the Big Fire Hydrant in downtown Beaumont.
There will also be a balloon release April 7th, in Orange County, and a Kid's Fest on Crockett Street in downtown Beaumont April 12th. Kid's Fest is free and will be from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.