By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
The number of children confirmed to be abused and neglected in Bell County increased by 176 in 2013 from the previous year, representing a 19 percent jump.
According to data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, 1,100 children from newborn to age 17 were confirmed victims of abuse and neglect in 2013 — an increase from 924 confirmed abuse and neglect victims in 2012.
Those are just the confirmed victims. The number of alleged victims jumped from 4,757 in 2012 to just more than 5,000 in 2013, resulting in 3,858 investigations by the agency. The same data showed that 454 children were removed from homes, up from 360 the previous year.
“Bell County is unique in Central Texas, because a high number of serious high-risk cases are reported to CPS due to the demographics of the county,” said Julie Moody, a spokeswoman for the department. “There are a lot of young parents with young children.”
Another factor was the county’s large military population, many with young families who were separated due to deployment.
“Many have no family support, and if they do, the family is located out of state,” Moody said.
According to Moody, most of the abuse that occurs in Bell County is classified as “neglectful supervision.”
“Neglectful supervision can be described as placing a child in a situation they are not mature enough to handle,” Moody said. “Neglectful supervision could mean a parent was using drugs or there was domestic violence between adults in the home, or more obvious situations such as leaving young children home alone or playing outside unattended for an extended period of time.”
About 20 percent of the cases in the county in 2013 involved physical abuse. Physical neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and medical neglect also were substantiated allegations in Bell County in fiscal year 2013, Moody said.
Michelle Carter, executive director of the nonprofit Children’s Advocacy Center of Central Texas, said drug use played a role in many of the abuse and neglect cases her organization dealt with in 2013. She also said high rates of child abuse have long been a problem in Bell County.
“Historically, Bell County’s numbers have never decreased,” Carter said. “We see it stay roughly the same year after year.”
While the numbers of abused and neglected children increased, the same data shows the number of staff assigned to work cases in the county is still less than needed.
Moody said Bell County is supposed to have 45 full-time caseworkers based on its the population and the number of cases received. Currently, there are 18 caseworkers and 17 more in training. “There are 10 vacant positions right now,” Moody said.
One number that dropped in 2013 was the number of child fatalities related to abuse or neglect. Bell County had just one such death in 2013, down from five in 2012. Carter said she believed Bell County residents are becoming more aware of how widespread the problem is. She said more people — including teachers and law enforcement personnel — receive training to better spot signs of abuse or neglect, and many residents report child abuse.
“I absolutely think that our community is following the trend, and recognizing that this is a problem,” Carter said.