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Advocacy groups offering resources as Lubbock is ranked second in state for high child abuse rates

In 2020, Texas had an estimated 65,000 victims of child abuse, and the two cities with the highest rates in the state - Abilene and Lubbock - are in West Texas.

The bookshelves in the resource room at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Lubbock are filled with dozens of hand-knit blankets, colorful books and stuffed animals. It takes three full walls of the room to hold everything.

This is where abused children go after a forensic interview with investigators. Kids are welcome to take any item that gives them comfort after they share their story.

“This is always a continuous donation that we need throughout the year, every year,” explained Derek Danner, the executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center. “We did 1,094 forensic interviews last year, so we go through these items quite a bit.”

A report from the Department of Family and Protective Services shows that in 2020, Texas had an estimated 65,000 victims of child abuse. For a second consecutive year, Lubbock has the second highest rate of child abuse in the state after Abilene.

In the past year, Danner said there were around 13 confirmed victims out of every 1,000 children.

“That has come down some over the last several years for our region,” said Danner.

According to Danner, the rate of child abuse in Lubbock can ebb and flow throughout the year and correlates with when school is in session. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Danner said the amount of reports decreased but it was likely due to not having educators seeing the kids daily to notice signs of abuse.

“We saw a drop off in interviews that year, we only did 893,” Danner explained. “We’ll see a slow down maybe in the statewide intakes again because they’re not in school so you don’t have professional reports. Summer school starts up, so that increases those reports again because kids are in touch with people they see.”

Dr. Patti Patterson, a child abuse expert for Covenant Children’s, said she also noticed a drop in numbers during the pandemic.

“I see the worst - I see the severe head traumas, the broken bones, the burns, and initially I saw a rise in severe head injuries, but then it got quiet,” Patterson said. “I think some of the quiet and the numbers of reports that went down can be sort of a false thing.”

Patterson said a lot of factors can add stress in a family’s life, including issues with finances or addiction, and that can all lead to abusive situations.

“There’s a lot of child poverty in Lubbock, we also have high teenage pregnancy rates,” Patterson said. “Another thing I see a lot of is substance abuse and it’s relationship with child abuse - be it cocaine, meth or alcohol.”

Other factors, such as having other adults in the home who aren’t related to the children, can also lead to abuse.

“If there is a non-related adult in the home, a child has a 9-fold increased risk of dying,” Patterson explained.

Patterson said abuse can have long-term consequences for the victim, who may continue the cycle of abuse through destructive behavior when they are an adult.

“Those kids are at increased risk of both health effects - physical and mental health,” Patterson explained. “Physical abuse, substance abuse, suicidality, depression, even heart disease or lung disease. They’re more likely to smoke, more likely to drink heavily.”

Patterson added: “That’s a very fundamental piece of being human, you should be able to trust your parents. If you can’t, then that’s a very foundational issue to these kids.”

Another issue facing children in the Lubbock region is foster care. DePelchin Children’s Center works with families in adoption services and child abuse prevention, but has a focus on foster care, too.

“This fiscal year, there have been nearly 300 children that have entered foster care just in the Lubbock-Amarillo region alone,” said Jesse Booher, the chief operations officer for DePelchin. “Last year, almost 1,000 children entered foster care.”

Booher said the number has gone down some over the years, but there are still a lot of children who need help before reaching the foster care system.

“Foster care is the tail end of the safety net - you’ve fallen through a lot of different safety nets if you’ve gotten to a place where you’re coming into foster care,” Booher said. “What we hope to see is resources and energy moved to the front end of the continuum, so we can catch kids and reach families before they fall to foster care.”

However, Booher said the number of alleged victims from abuse or neglect has increased significantly.

“There have been 10,500 alleged victims of abuse and neglect, and that is way up from last year,” Booher said. “That number really is shocking. It is something we should all be concerned about. It’s trending in the wrong direction.”

Since there is no clear reason as to why Lubbock’s child abuse rate is so high, Danner at the Children’s Advocacy Center said they are likely to stay busy throughout the rest of the year.

“We would like to work ourselves out of a job, and that’s what we’re trying to do, but we need prevention,” Danner said. “This is something we need to work on and be mindful of 365 days a year, our kids are our greatest resource going forward and we need to be taking care of them.”

Danner said Lubbock is full of resources for not just children, but the parents who need help handling stress too.

“If you’re having issues or certain feelings, ask for help - there’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” Danner said. “We have resources for adults that may need some coping skills so they don’t get triggered because it’s generally just someone who couldn’t handle and cope with the situation at that time. We all need help, we all need grace, let’s use the resources we have and take care of our kids.”

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Jayme Lozano