By State Rep. Tan Parker
Since having the honor to serve as your state representative, much of the dialogue that people share focuses on major issues facing Texans such as lowering taxes, funding public education, economic development, and building our infrastructure to accommodate the nearly 30 million people who call our great state home. While I am incredibly blessed to be a voice for House District 63 as we continue Texas’ prosperity, there has been another topic that people find more difficult to talk about. This is the horrific reality of child abuse. With April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we must never stop shining a light on the darkest of topics and empowering people to not only recognize what abuse truly is but take steps to eradicate it.
During my first term, my wife, Beth, and I were invited to the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County to meet one of the most inspiring survivors we know, Jenna Quinn. If you have never visited Denton County’s Advocacy Center, you should. It was a life changing experience for us and began a pivotal mission that guides me as a public servant.
Denton County’s Advocacy Center was instrumental in my passing Jenna’s Law to provide prevention strategies for educators across Texas and is now the law across most of the United States. Their efforts have impacted my other legislative initiatives to protect homeless teens, fight human trafficking, increase criminal penalties for sexual predators, provide greater protections for victims and now address Adverse Childhood Experiences related to childhood trauma this session (HB 4183).
Despite improvements in our child protection laws, the real work being done is right here in our own community by Denton County’s Advocacy Center who is hosting community events and parent workshops this month. Here are just five reasons they share about how child abuse impacts us all:
- Child abuse exists in our community and more cases are reported every year. In 2018, 6,915 reports of child abuse were made in Denton County. That’s nearly 30% more cases reported than in 2016. (And because of laws strengthened last legislative session that ensures child victims get crucial services, Denton County’s Advocacy Center has seen a 70% increase in demand!) In 2018, 58,432 children statewide received services from one of the children’s advocacy centers.
- This crime has no socio-economic, ethnic, or religious boundaries. Both boys and girls are victims of child sexual abuse. Nationally, about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused beforetheir 18th birthday.
- 9 in 10 kids know their abuser. Often, the alleged perpetrator tragically is a parent, neighbor, coach, family member, pastor or another juvenile. Abusers don’t just groom their victim; they groom other adults first to gain trust.
- Child abuse is an Adverse Childhood Experience. The Center for Disease Control has shown that experiences like child abuse are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death, as well as poor quality of life as early trauma can actually change the architecture of a child’s brain. (Early access to specialized services – like those provided at Advocacy Centers throughout Texas – interrupt the destruction that child abuse can cause)
- Child abuse has an economic impact on us all. It is estimated that in just one year, there are over $9 billion in associated costs with health care, child welfare, special education, violence and crime, suicide and survivor productivity losses. Female victims of child sexual abuse will have $283,000 in lifetime costs.
These statistics make it abundantly clear that our work is far from over. Advocacy Centers are mandated by the Texas Family Code to respond with wrap-around services when a report of severe child abuse is made and coordinates the investigation as well as the prosecution in Denton County. We wouldn’t be able to save these precious victims and prevent further cases without their invaluable passion.
The Center also provides mental health services to children who have suffered the crime of child abuse along with their non-offending family members. Research increasingly shows that child victims of trauma, including sexual and physical abuse, are at high risk for poor mental health outcomes.
Together, we can make a meaningful difference in the fight against child abuse, and early intervention is the single best way to mitigate the negative impact of this heinous crime. Please consider the following:
- You are a mandated reporter! In Texas, adults aged 18 and over are mandated by law to report child abuse. You can report child abuse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 1-800-252-5400 or online at https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Contact_Us/report_abuse.asp.
- Know the signs and symptoms of child abuse. After attending a training conducted by the advocacy center, 98% of adults reported an increase in knowledge of recognizing the signs of child abuse and how to report it. Learn more at cacdc.org/what-we-do/education.
It’s an honor to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives. If you have questions about how the state is addressing child protections or any issue, please contact me at 512.463.0688 or email [email protected].