April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and, just like last year, San Antonio will soon be inundated with thousands of tangible reminders that kids need to be kept safe — and that doing so is the responsibility of the community.
In a program developed by ChildSafe and sponsored this year by Valero Energy Corp., more than 20,000 decorated Cardboard Kids are being placed across the city, at businesses, schools, nonprofits and other organizations, to raise awareness about the need to detect and prevent child abuse and neglect.
“Too many children grow up in homes where they live in fear,” said Kim Abernethy, president, and CEO of ChildSafe, a child advocacy center that assesses and treats children who’ve experienced maltreatment. “They don’t have the opportunity to be real children.”
At a Thursday news conference at Brackenridge Park, under a pavilion next to a playground where the joyous voices of kids playing could be heard, local and state officials spoke of the need to protect children.
“This (Cardboard Kids) campaign is so important, because the community can become numb to abuse and neglect,” said District Attorney Nico LaHood, who made child abuse prevention the centerpiece of his successful campaign against incumbent Susan Reed. “But for children, it’s real. Children don’t choose to be born to parents who abuse them. They’re stuck with it.”
LaHood said “talk is cheap” and that it’s up to everyone — law enforcement, schools, child welfare workers and just ordinary residents — to take part in campaigns such as Cardboard Kids, learn the signs of abuse and neglect, and be willing to report it.
The Cardboard Kids campaign has a heavy social media element, Abernethy said, with folks blogging about it and posting photos of Cardboard Kid sightings on FaceBook and Twitter under the hashtag #cardboardkidsSA.
Retired Judge John Specia, head of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said that each year the state receives more than 200,000 calls reporting possible abuse and neglect and cares for more than 28,000 kids in state custody who’ve been removed from parents because of danger.
“We need more prevention, because I want to put myself out of business,” he told those gathered. “People not only need to report abuse or neglect when they suspect it, they need to reach out to families in need, to let these children know they’re not alone.”
In fiscal 2014, there were 5,434 confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Bexar County and 12 child fatalities. Statewide, 151 children died at the hands of caregivers.
Abernethy said ChildSafe provides services to about 4,200 children and nonoffending parents a year. Three out of four of those children have been sexually abused, she said.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said, referring to the fight against child maltreatment. “We must take ownership of this issue and break the silence.”
Originally published on April 9, 2015 by San Antonio Express-News
Article By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
Photos: Edward A. Ornelas, Staff / San Antonio Express-News