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April is Child Neglect Prevention Month

By BY JOHN SPECIA
April 28, 2014 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated April 27, 2014 at 11:28 p.m.

Judge John Specia

On April 1, a 3-year-old boy drowned in Denton County in his family's backyard pool. Mom was watching him blow bubbles in the backyard through the kitchen window. Her phone rang, and then a baby in the home began to cry. By the time she checked again on the toddler, he was face-down in the pool. And he was gone.

Five days later, in a cluttered home in Montgomery County, a young father took a nap on an adult bed with his 5-month-old and 1-year-old sons. When he awoke, the infant was cold and blue.

In the child welfare world, these are common, seemingly everyday occurrences. But even after hearing the details of these and hundreds of cases like them, that sick feeling in the gut persists.

Neither of these children had to die - or the hundreds of others, victims of nothing more than simple neglect, preventable simply by clicking on a link at the bottom of this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and all across our state, there are rallies and marches and vigils and readings and speeches, all festooned with the now-familiar symbol of child abuse prevention - the blue ribbon. You may have seen pinwheels at an event; an advocacy group in one of our largest cities has placed almost 6,000 "cardboard kids" in the community to represent victims of child abuse. One of those kids sits near my office in Austin.

This month is priceless to those of us who work in the child welfare field because it serves as a well-needed call to action to every community and jolts our awareness of a very uncomfortable everyday reality of our society: that across all demographic and socioeconomic lines, parents and grandparents and boyfriends and girlfriends beat and starve and ignore children. Because of that, society suffers, and this state's future suffers.

We have to do better most of all for these individual children and for their families who also often desperately need help. Texas' future also depends on these very young children, and they must be protected.

I doubt you have heard about the Denton County drowning or the co-sleeping death in Montgomery County. You may have only heard about the worst cases, ones that result in immediate arrests and capital murder charges and horribly graphic details presented publicly in law enforcement affidavits or court documents. When we are already involved with a family, we have to do a better job to identify and intercept those cases, if at all possible, and stop the terrible abuse before it occurs.

But each of us, as individual members of our community, can have even a more dramatic effect on our children and save more lives by paying close attention to the two most frequent causes of child fatalities investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS): drowning and unsafe sleep.

Last year, 804 child deaths were reported to CPS to investigate. Of those, 238 were either drownings or sleep-related - 30 percent.

Of the 156 child fatalities confirmed as either abuse or neglect, 60 percent were neglect, and most of those were either drownings or sleep-related deaths.

We can save children's lives by becoming familiar with information about these easily preventable deaths. Please look at this column online to take advantage of these websites: • Watch Kids Around Water

• Room to Breathe

• Texas Child Protective Services

And let's please stop the neglect - for our kids' sake.

Judge John Specia is commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

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