North Texas children abused or neglected are having their voices heard this month.
April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month and a child advocacy group held a touching tribute to the thousands of Dallas County children who suffered abuse or neglect last year.
Participants at various locations throughout the county read aloud the names of 27,484 ‘Jane Doe’ or ‘John Doe’ children along with their ages. Because the children are minors, their real names are protected.
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“I just read names earlier today and it is just so powerful to say that name out loud and that age to know that that is a child that is defenseless and that they were victims of abuse or neglect,” said Lana Ahrens of the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. “It's so powerful to say those names and ages out loud because we have the ages ranging from 0 to 17.”
April 1, the first day of National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, brought a tragic reminder of why advocacy is needed when Denton police revealed that 7-year-old Phoenix Ho died after enduring weeks of horrific abuse. Police arrested the boy's mother, Sabrina Ho, and her boyfriend, Todd Shaw, in connection with his death. Both Shaw and Ho and charged with felony injury to a child, hers by omission, with more charges possible pending the outcome of the medical examiner’s report.
“The death of a child affects the entire community,” said Kristen Howell of the Children’s Advocacy Center for North Texas. “The one thing I could hope is that it brings a community together because it does make you realize: This can literally be happening next door and it will take all of us to report abuse like this to authorities.”
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The Children’s Advocacy Center for North Texas provides healing and educational services in Denton, Jack, and now Wise counties.
Howell said on the same day we learned of Ho’s death, “we also had two other severe injuries to a child that day that will be life-altering for both of them.”
Howell said the nonprofit has registered an increase in child abuse cases in some of the fastest-growing areas they serve, including Wise County and part of Frisco in Denton County.
The agency only recently began providing therapy and education services to Wise County residents and has already provided therapy services to 115 children without having to travel a long distance.
“Wise County was the largest county in Texas that did not have a dedicated advocacy center response. And so actually in the middle of COVID, when everybody else was hunkering down and maybe getting smaller as an organization, our organization saw a huge need and decided to go toward it,” said Howell.
To put the increase in their services into perspective, Howell said it took the agency 20 years to administer 1,000 forensic interviews in a single year. However, the past three years have seen almost double the number of forensic interviews.
“We're seeing a 33% increase in the number of severe reports, so it's not just more reports, it's more reports that are more severe,” she added.
Advocates at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center continue to train teachers to notice signs of child abuse that could present themselves in the presence of physical marks or changes in behavior.
Another red flag is if a child does not want to be alone with a person.
Advocates always worry near the end of the school year.
“When [children] are not in school, they’re not being seen by their educators, by that protective caregiver, so we definitely see a drop in reports over the summer. That’s why we need the community to be aware,” said Ahrens.
Texas adults are mandatory reporters, meaning you are obligated by law to report possible cases of child abuse to authorities.
“It is a taboo subject that people don’t want to believe exists, but 1 in 10 kids will experience it and so we simply must come together as a community to stand together for kids,” said Howell.
- If you feel that a child is in immediate danger, call 911.
- Dallas Children's Advocacy Center at 214-818-2600
- Children’s Advocacy Center for North Texas at 972-317-2818
- Denton County Friends of the Family 24-Hour Crisis Hotline at 940-382-7273
- Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400 You can make a report online at txabusehotline.org.