In Fannin County, there were 432 alleged victims of child abuse in 2020, according to the Data Book of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. This is a 9% increase over the previous year. Commissioner Jerry Magness noted that the number of alleged victims is more than one a day for a year.
The number of confirmed victims was 117 in 2020, according to the same source. These reports only include cases that are reported to Child Protective Services. Cases involving children who are abused by someone not in their household or family will often be investigated only by law enforcement.
The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is one of two primary programs operated by the Fannin County Children’s Center. The CAC facilitates a multidisciplinary team involved in the investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse. Team members include Child Protective Services, all local law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney’s office.
The CAC received 220 new referrals from CPS and law enforcement last year. These cases primarily involve sexual abuse and serious physical abuse. In the year ending August 31, 2020, the CAC in Fannin County conducted 193 forensic interviews. These fact-finding interviews are a key part of the joint investigations conducted by CPS and law enforcement. CAC therapists provided 1,464 counseling sessions in the same year. These numbers were down only slightly compared to the previous year. The COVID-19 pandemic started in the middle of this reporting year. Services were paused briefly at the start of the pandemic and then quickly started back up with safety precautions in place. Counseling, advocacy and case coordination efforts went virtual. Forensic interviews continued in-person.
The Children’s Center’s other primary program for child abuse victims is Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). In the year ending August 31, 2020 CASA served 119 children in foster care, which was the second most ever served in a year since CASA started serving children in Fannin County in 1993. Thirty-nine active CASA volunteers logged in 3,298 hours and more than 21,000 miles in their service to advocate for the children in the custody of the state. The pandemic changed, but did not stop, CASA’s efforts. Court hearings, child visits, mediations and case meetings all switched to Zoom or other video apps as the pandemic started.
“In Texas, all adults ages 18 and up are mandated reporters of child abuse,” said Sandy Barber, Executive Director of the Children’s Center. “That means, if you suspect a child is being abused, you are obligated by law to report it. You do not have to investigate. That is the job of CPS and law enforcement. However, CPS and law enforcement cannot check into a situation if no one finds the courage to make the call.”
When making a report, be prepared to give as much information as possible, including the child’s name, age, address and school as well as details about what happened. Reports should be made as soon as possible, but no later than 48 hours.
Reports to the hotline are confidential, except in cases where a judge orders CPS to release the name of the reporter. Reports can be made anonymously. The law provides for immunity from civil or criminal liabilities for innocent persons who report even unfounded suspicions, as long as the report is made in good faith.
In Texas, the child abuse reporting hotline is 1-800-252-5400. If the situation is an emergency, call 911 for local law enforcement. Reports can also be made on-line at www.txabusehotline.org if the situation does not require an emergency response. For more about the Fannin County Children’s Center, go to www.fanninccc.org.