This holiday season, while many of us are fortunate to spend quality time with our loved ones enjoying the spirit of the season, there are many children across Texas and the country who are subjected to a much different experience.
Child welfare officials and organizations often see a spike in reports of child abuse and neglect during this season, which some studies conclude is a result of the added financial stress of the holidays, more frequent use of alcohol among adults, and children spending more time with distant relatives during their break from school.
Child abuse and neglect is a serious problem that impacts too many children not only during the holidays, but year-round. In Texas, on average, more than 200,000 cases of alleged child abuse or neglect are reported each year.
According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, deaths from child abuse and neglect in Texas soared 31 percent from 2008 to 2009, with 280 related deaths confirmed.
This year, in addition to seasonal factors, the weakened state of our economy is already being attributed to a rise in child abuse and neglect cases. A study recently released by Boston University School of Medicine found that a prolonged increase in unemployment rates is "detrimental" to the physical and mental health of children. In November, the national unemployment rate rose to a seven-month high of 9.8 percent.
"When times are bad, children suffer," said study author Dr. Robert Sege, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center. "These results suggest that programs to strengthen families and prevent maltreatment should be expanded during economic downturns."
Texans can help turn the tide on child abuse by keeping an eye out for children who display certain signs or behaviors. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, some of the signs of abuse or neglect that individuals should look for include: a child who displays sudden changes in behavior or school performance; is always watchful, as though bracing for something bad to happen; has little adult supervision; arrives to school or other activities early, stays late and does not want to go home; or is overly compliant or withdrawn.
Other warning signs include: a parent who shows little concern for the child; denies the existence of the child or blames the child for problems at school or home; asks teachers to use harsh physical discipline with the child; or looks primarily to the child for care, attention and satisfaction of emotional needs.
Across Texas and the nation we are fortunate that many worthy non-profit organizations work tirelessly on behalf of abused and neglected children. One of these is the CASA program – a national movement that enlists volunteers who are appointed by judges to advocate for abused and neglected children. CASA volunteers work to ensure these children are not overlooked in the legal or social service system or allowed to languish in appropriate group or foster homes. For many abused children, CASA volunteers are the only constant adult presence they will have during their youth. Texas is home to 69 local CASA programs.
This month, I'll have the privilege of joining CASA of San Antonio at an event to raise awareness about child abuse during the holiday season. We'll be joined by several other advocacy organizations in the San Antonio region in calling on all Texans to do their part to look out for the signs of child abuse and neglect and report any suspected cases.
Together we can work to curb child abuse and rescue children from abusive homes this Christmas and throughout the year. If you suspect a child is the victim of abuse or neglect, please call the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service's 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-252-5400, or report it to your local law enforcement.
As we prepare to spend time with our families this holiday season, I hope we can keep these children in our prayers and do everything we can to prevent another child from becoming a victim of abuse or neglect.
Sen. Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Agriculture, and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.