Amarillo Group Has Answers Others Could Use

.jpg photo of Child Abuse Advocates
The panel specifically discussed how preventative measures can steer families away from abuse, neglect and the inevitable involvement of Child Protective Services.

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

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