SALT LAKE CITY, UT – The winners — who are abuse survivors — stress forgiveness, staying positive and drawing strength from others.
As 8-year-old Keely Parry sat in her third-grade classroom listening to a presentation about sexual abuse seven years ago, she had a realization.
Her father had been abusing her and her older sister Kiera.
Their father was eventually convicted of the abuse, and the girls became advocates for other victims.
On Wednesday, Keely, Kiera and their sister Nieve Parry were recognized, along with fellow abuse survivors Grant Rutherford and Alex Smith, for advocating at a young age and working to prevent further abuse.
Prevent Child Abuse Utah (PCAU), an agency that works to educate the public and stop child abuse, presented the awards at a breakfast ceremony in Salt Lake City. According to a PCAU news release, 1 in 5 children in the U.S. is abused before turning 18. The reported rate of child sexual abuse in Utah is 27 percent, which is three times the national average of 9 percent.
Rutherford was sexually abused at age 8 by a girl a few years older than he was, he told the crowd at the banquet. This year, he centered his high school senior thesis around speaking out about sexual abuse.
Smith experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse in his first 13 years of life — living in a Russian orphanage until age 5 that left him with scars from cigarette burns and knife wounds, then being adopted by two sets of abusive parents in the U.S. before he was adopted the third and final time by 4th District Juvenile Court Judge Rick Smith and his family.
During the next few years, Smith began to heal from his abuse and became more vocal about abuse in the foster care system.
In their comments, winners noted the importance of forgiveness, staying positive through hard times and gaining strength from the people around them.
PCAU is the organization that gave the presentation in Keely Parry’s elementary school and helped her identify the abuse she had experienced.
“It’s been a really long, hard journey,” an emotional Keely Parry said, “and if it weren’t for [PCAU] and my family, I don’t know what I would do.”
Though now-17-year-old Kiera Parry said she still experiences strong emotions stemming from her abuse, the love she feels from her support system helps her move forward.
Rutherford echoed those sentiments and encouraged audience members — including his graduating senior class — to take action.
“You have a chance to move on, to not only change your life but those around you, including others who may have been abused and don’t know what to do,” Rutherford said. “It’s up to you to speak up and change your environment, and I have a firm knowledge that things do get better once you do.”
The stories from child abuse survivors are inspiring, said PCAU board Chairman Tony Divino, but the agency’s ultimate goal is to “prevent these stories.” To do that, it offers free half-hour online courses to educate people on how to prevent abuse.
It’s a cause, he said, that will have a lasting impact.
Panel in Amarillo says answers to Child Abuse must be community-driven
AMARILLO, TX – Child abuse and neglect is 60 percent higher in Amarillo than the state average.
Kristie Tingle, a research analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, revealed the number Tuesday during a presentation that painted a picture for community leaders, municipal candidates, professionals with Child Protective Services and representatives from Amarillo’s non-profit sector about the current state of Texas Panhandle families.
Tingle said the difference in Amarillo’s high percentage as compared to the state’s average might be attributed to increased reporting of abuse and neglect cases.
However, she and Sasha Rasco, the associate commissioner for the Texas Department of Family &Protective Services Division of Prevention & Early Intervention, also suspect there’s another significant contributing factor: Amarillo’s high rate of domestic violence.
“We know that violence is violence,” Rasco said. “Violence in the home generally impacts both the adults and the children, so it’s easy to conclude there’s something about violence that needs to be tackled in the panhandle area. Not that we don’t see domestic violence or physical abuse around the entire state, but it does seem to be concentrated here.”
The forum was sponsored by PEI and featured a panel of professionals including Bruce Moseley, executive director for the Turn Center in Amarillo, Dubb Alexander, founder and director of Fathers Add Value in Amarillo, and April Leming, executive director for the Bridge Children’s Advocacy Center.
The panel specifically discussed how preventative measures can steer families away from abuse, neglect and the inevitable involvement of Child Protective Services. They also talked about how to support children with developmental needs, how to empower fathers and the various ways that families deal with stress.
Rasco said PEI serves about 62,000 families in Texas through their prevention programming. According to a recent study by the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing at The University of Texas at Austin, 97 percent of those Texas families did not experience CPS involvement.
Shawn Vandygriff, CPS Region 1 director, said the study’s outcome shows that prevention measures actually work.
“What we currently have is great, but how much greater that could be and how many more people we can touch if we have more prevention type of resources in each of our communities?” Vandygriff asked. “Because obviously, that data shows that if parents can get the help they need in order to remain stress free — or to provide a food box or whatever the situation might be — that we (CPS) don’t become involved with them. If they have the ability to reach out on their own to get what they need, then it does alleviate some of the caseload we (CPS) would end up getting.”
Using the analogy of a river, Rasco described the flow of child welfare in Texas.
Most recently the focus has been shifted solely to saving children who might be drowning in the river — foster care — but Rasco believes attention should be given equally to children and families who are upstream, who might later find themselves in that situation.
“There’s generally, on any given day, around 36,000 children in foster care – but there’s 7 million in the state of Texas,” Rasco said.
Tingle shared with the panel many of the descriptive statistics she’s gathered about families in the Texas Panhandle. She said she’s concluded that the region has “concerning trends” that negatively compare to those in larger metropolitan areas across the state.
“Dallas had only four more domestic violence homicides than Amarillo did, but Dallas has six times the population,” Tingle said, referring to research from 2015.
“It’s not existing in a vacuum,” said Tingle. “The high rates of family violence are feeding back into the high rates of child abuse as well.”
Tingle added that the research conducted on area families also includes changes in the region’s demographics, specifically changes in population by race along with an increasing Hispanic population.
Courtney Seals, division administrator for DFPS Division of Community and System Support, said these are community-based concerns and therefore the answers must be community-driven.
There is a role for everybody,” Seals said. “This is not just an issue for social workers in Amarillo, this is not just an issue for people at the schools, this is something that every single person has the ability to influence in some way, whether it’s within your own company by creating a space that supports families and allows families the time off they need to go to doctor visits with their kids, or whether you’re educating people in the community about this issue. But everybody can do something.”
Rasco echoed Seals, encouraging the creation of a culture that embraces families, even when a two-year-old might be throwing a temper tantrum at a grocery store. The usual response to that situation might be to frown at the mother, Rasco said, but an encouraging word or understanding smile instead can become a catalyst of positive change.
“Imagine how differently that mom goes home with that kid,” Rasco said. “There really are micro things you can change in a community to make it a happier, healthier place to raise children. That’s not about the social work, that’s not about CPS, that’s about the community deciding how they want to embrace children and families and help parents.”
Child Abuse and Neglect in the Texas Panhandle
15.5 out of every 1,000 children in Amarillo
9.1 out of every 1,000 children in the state of Texas
This is a 60 percent difference in confirmed child abuse and neglect cases in Amarillo compared to Texas state average
Factors Affecting Child Abuse and Neglect in the Texas Panhandle
The average family of three needs $48,000/year to survive in Amarillo
29 percent of Amarillo jobs cannot provide that annual salary
Potter and Randall counties combined had more than 26,000 domestic violence cases in 2015
Potter County violence against women is 6.8 per 1,000 women per year which is three times higher than the statewide rate
In Amarillo, there were 7 homicides committed by a family member or partner in 2015 as compared to Dallas, with six times the population, which had 11 homicides that same year
I CHECK FIRST with my parents, guardians, or other trusted adults before going anywhere, helping anyone, accepting anything, or getting into a car.
I TAKE A FRIEND with me when going places or playing outside.
I TELL people “NO” if they try to touch me or hurt me. It’s OK
for me to stand up for myself.
I TELL my trusted adult if anything makes me feel sad, scared,
Sometimes there are people who trick or hurt others. No one has the right to do that to you. So use these rules, and remember you are STRONG, are SMART, and have the right to be SAFE.
TAKE A FRIEND
TELL PEOPLE “NO” IF THEY TRY TO TOUCH YOU OR HURT YOU
TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST IF ANYTHING HAPPENS
KidSmartz is a child safety program that educates families about preventing abduction and empowers kids in grades K-5 to practice safer behaviors. This program offers resources to help parents, caregivers, and teachers protect kids by teaching and practicing the 4 Rules of Personal Safety using tips, printable activities, quizzes, articles, music, videos, and more.
ABILENE, TX – An Abilene preschool teacher accused of biting a 4-year-old autistic student has resigned, the Abilene Independent School District said in a statement Wednesday.
Kirsten Barnett, 25, is charged with injury to a child, a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
She was arrested and released from the Taylor County Jail on Tuesday on a $5,000 bond, according to jail records.
The school district placed Barnett on paid administrative leave Feb. 2, said Philip Ashby, AISD spokesman, in an email. She remained on paid leave until she resigned April 7.
Barnett allegedly bit the 4-year-old student Feb. 1, while trying to move the student from the sand where the child was playing to the math area, according to court documents.
The student did not want to go and dropped to the floor, where Barnett reportedly pulled the child onto her lap and placed him in a restraining hold, court documents state.
The child began to squirm and push against Barnett, and then she bent down and bit the student on his cheek by his ear, according to court documents. The child then yelled out.
A teacher’s aide who said she saw what happened saw the bite mark on the student’s face, court documents state.
Barnett worked at the Locust Early Childhood Center, according to a staff directory, until she resigned.
“When the allegations first came to the school’s attention, administrators acted swiftly to report the incident to the Abilene Police Department. The teacher was immediately placed on leave during the course of the police investigation and has not returned to the classroom or interacted with students again,” the district said in a statement. “The safety of our students is our top priority, and we are grateful for the immediate reporting by witnesses and for the cooperation from the Abilene Police Department.”
HOUSTON, TX – Sudden Infant Death Sydrome (SIDS) is a parent’s worst fear.
In 2015, the CDC said there were 1,600 infants who died of SIDS in the United States.
Over the past 20 years practices have been learned to lower the number of sudden infant deaths.
However, there are also some new guidelines, in part because of new devices, like high-tech baby monitors hitting the market.
So the American Academy of Pediatrics made some updates to their safe sleep environment recommendations.
Harmony Jurkash had her second child, Jackson, just three months ago, and she believes in safe sleep practices.
“We are definitely a proponent of crib sleeping, on the back,” says Jurkash.
She keeps the crib empty. No toys, no blankets, no bumpers, and that’s exactly how baby Jackson should sleep, says Dr. Rita Muthappa, the NICU Medical Director at Memorial Hermann Memorial City and Katy.
“The baby should sleep alone on a firm mattress,” says Dr. Muthappa.
Jurkash also uses a baby monitor to check on her son.
“It allows a safety net as far as always keeping an eye on the baby, but yet you can keep a distance from you and the baby so they can rest and you can relax,” explains Jurkash.
But these days, there are also high-tech monitors that actually monitor a baby’s vital signs, something that Dr. Muthappa says the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend.
“We know these baby monitors are not regulated, the safety has not been studied, and they do more harm than good for the baby and parents,” explains Dr. Muthappa.
That’s because false alarms on the devices often alarm parents. Now, a product with studies and statistics behind it is the Baby Box.
“I found it really interesting. I’m going to put my baby in a box. I don’t know how it’s going to sound!” says Jurkash.
The Baby Box was created in Finland in the 1930s, and each new mom goes home with one. Finland has the lowest infant mortality rate.
“They reduce infant mortality tremendously. They are very common in Europe and countries. They are less expensive and as safe as using a bassinet or crib,” says Dr. Muthappa.
The Baby Box is now available here in the US.
Finally, another new guideline Dr. Muthappa discusses with new parents is how long a baby should sleep in the parents’ room.
“We talk about keeping the baby in the room for up to six months to a year,” says Dr. Muthappa.
And that’s just a little too long for Jurkash.
“In our experience, it’s worked for us to keep them in their crib in a separate room. It makes complete sense that neither the parents nor the baby will get a restful night’s sleep if they’re in the same room,” says Jurkash.
Swaddling does not prevent SIDS, and Dr. Muthappa says tight swaddling is not recommended because infants need to be able to move their hips. Also, pacifiers are now recommended as a part of safe sleeping.