By Michelle Guffey
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Cruising down U.S. Highway 190, drivers might have seen the billboards – bright purple and yellow creations illustrating a father holding a child, then the words, "I spilled my milk."
Sneaking another look at the picture, it becomes clear – the artwork portrays an angry father gripping and yelling at his child.
It's a scene that is repeated in households across the state – one that the Central Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards is hoping to eradicate.
The state agency Thursday announced a new campaign to promote public awareness for the prevention of abuse and neglect at a news conference held at the Expo Center.
The billboards are part of that campaign and are showcased in Bell, Williamson and Travis counties, as well as on television and radio spots.
The council played one of the radio spots for the attendees – silence at first and then the group jumped as they heard an enraged mother screaming at her child, glass shattering in the background; then, a father yelling, "Your bicycle was lying in the drive behind my car. I backed my car over it!" It then fades out to an announcement about reporting possible child abuse and neglect.
"There is no way as a state agency that we can do this by ourselves," said Lori Connerly, regional liaison with the council. "We depend on organizations and the community."
As part of its campaign, the council is enlisting the continued support of businesses, community organizations, worship centers and individuals to educate the public.
"Even one case of unreported child abuse is too many," said David Woodberry, president of the council. "The system cannot work unless Texans report suspected abuse and neglect to authorities."
In 2005, Child Protective Services investigated almost 19,000 reports of abuse in the 30-county Central Texas region. Of that number, CPS found 7,271 abused victims – a 36 percent increase since 2002.
Last year in Bell County, 3,800 abuse cases were reported. In 900 of those cases, children required treatment in hospital intensive care units.
Among 254 Texas counties, Bell County ranks sixth in the number of child abuse cases.
"Those statistics tell you there is more work to be done educating people on how to prevent abuse and neglect," Connerly said. "We want it to stay on top of people's minds."
The welfare board also is charged with taking care of children who are abruptly removed from their homes, usually with just the clothes on their backs, before seeing that the children are placed in foster care.
"Imagine if you went away for the weekend without a change of clothes or even a toothbrush," Connerly said to the crowd of media and child abuse advocates.
The number of reported abuses last year shows that communities are becoming more vigilant on how to recognize abuse.
"Help us protect the unprotected, vulnerable children of Texas," Connerly said.
Contact Michelle Guffey at firstname.lastname@example.org