By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Several Bell County officials spoke out against child abuse and neglect on Tuesday.
The speeches were part of a child abuse and neglect awareness campaign under way in Bell County, the first step of which took place in the Bell County Commissioner Courtroom on Tuesday morning. Bell County's initiative is tied to April being Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Among those attending the event were county and city law enforcement personnel, including Sheriff Dan Smith, Harker Heights Police Chief Mike Gentry and Killeen Police Capt. Jackie Dunn. They stood alongside several county officials, including District Attorney Henry Garza, County Attorney Rick Miller and County Judge Jon Burrows.
Miller said the onus is on the public to get the authorities involved because by the time his office takes a case, the future of a child, and a family, could have already suffered irreparable damage.
"The agencies that were lined up are in a reactive mode," Miller said. "We try to handle the problem after it has already happened. The children are bombarded by (faulty practices in some) day care centers and dysfunctional families, and the awareness end is on the public. This is a call to contact the authorities when people see abuse and family violence happening. Often, the damage is done by the time these agencies get involved."
Miller said that by statute, he represents the children who are removed from their home by protective services, and his department is one of the fastest growing in the state. He said the organizations that are proactive depend on contributions. Volunteers in all these agencies play an important part in prevention.
"The trick to solving this problem is nipping it up front," Miller said. "And getting the public involved."
Burrows said this is an effort to strike at a rising problem that is affected by the demographics of Killeen, which is made up of young parents who are more susceptible to committing this type of abuse because of the inherent lack of surrounding support structure.
"The emphasis of this meeting was to get the word out that people can deal with stress and deal with issues," Burrows said. "If they see child abuse, they have a responsibility to report it. Bell County has an exploding population. Even if the percentage (of aiding volunteers) stays the same, you're going to have more problems. Our population is kind of unique. We have a young population with young parents, and many of them don't have the extended family to help them with parenting skills, dealing with kids."
There is a better way to deal with the problems, he said. No one wants to see kids in the intensive care unit.
Smith said that preventing child abuse will have a ripple effect on future generations. He said that many offenders he sees coming and going through the Bell County Jail were abused as children, so it's a cycle of violence from the young to the old.
"The overall message was that all of us are doing our part in combating this crime," Smith said. "We see it in the jail setting. All too often we see inmates charged who were treated for abuse or neglect (in their youth), and we try to break the cycle with jail ministry or other programs. We still need the public to get involved. We need financial assistance as well."
He added that it's easy for people to see child abuse or neglect and try to ignore it because it makes them feel uncomfortable.
"Generally speaking, people tend not to get involved. The problem here is that the child is a victim – the child starfish that gets thrown out back into the ocean."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568