A star professional football player is charged with injuring his 4-year-old son by whipping him with a switch, and the news sets off a national discussion about the causes and effects of child abuse.
But it shouldn’t have taken Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s alleged offense to focus our attention on one of the most serious and painful issues in our society.
Last week, another football superstar, retired Dallas Cowboys running back Emmett Smith, joined more than 300 other people in Fort Worth to help raise money for an organization that has been fighting child abuse for more than 20 years.
Smith, the National Football League’s all-time leading rusher, was the special guest at the Alliance For Children’s annual “Great Conversation Dinner,” which raised about $170,000 for the agency that aids about 2,000 abused children each year in Tarrant County.
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The father of five, Smith said he couldn’t imagine some of the harmful things that “deranged” people do to children.
Indeed, and while it is appalling to think of an adult severely “punishing” a child with a switch, some of the stories that staff and volunteers of the Alliance hear are even more horrendous.
Through a video, the audience was introduced to Gabriel, who was removed from his home when he was 7 months old, weighing only 8.4 pounds — very close to his birth weight.
His mother and father simply didn’t feed him.
By the time he got help, it was difficult for him to take in food because he had stomach problems and “he had literally forgotten how to swallow; his muscles had atrophied to the point that he had to rebuild them,” his adoptive mother said.
Gabriel was hospitalized for 24 days, and during that time he never spent an hour unattended. Staff members from Alliance for Children, Fort Worth police detectives, Tarrant County District Attorney employees and Child Protective Services investigators signed up to sit with him around the clock.
Today he is a happy and healthy (physically and mentally) 6-year-old who is full of life.
One of the women at my table had started out with the organization by volunteering to rock babies at Cook Children’s Medical Center, and her child to comfort was one born addicted to heroin.
She rocked him every day from October to January, and she still vividly remembers the child’s haunting cry.
“You’ve never heard a cry like the cry of a heroin baby,” she said.
Since its beginning in 1992, Alliance For Children has aided 46,000 children, said Julia Summers, director of development.
With centers in Fort Worth, Arlington and Hurst, AFC acts as a one-stop agency for abused children and their families. AFC provides a team approach to child abuse investigations through collaboration with 16 law enforcement agencies, Cook Children’s, the DA’s office and CPS.
“By collaborating, investigators and detectives are able to complete investigations in a timely manner, cases are stronger for prosecution and children and their protective parents are more likely to benefit from the services AFC offers or services they are referred to in the community,” Summers said.
In the case of Gabriel’s parents, both were convicted. The father received a life sentence and the mother was sent to jail for 18 months.
Summers noted that the majority of children served through AFC have been sexually abused.
After an investigation confirms child abuse has occurred, “healing services begin,” she said. There is an assessment by an AFC licensed social worker, and “family advocates” work with families to provide individualized services.
The Alliance also has an emphasis on preventing abuse.
“We are inspired by the thought that we could prevent even one child from ever walking through the doors of one of our centers,” Summers said. “Last year, we educated over 28,000 children and adults in how to recognize, react and respond appropriately to child abuse.
“We are confident that this community can embrace protective behaviors and build a safer Tarrant County.”