Crime

Tarrant County leads Texas in child abuse cases

Star-Telegram

More children were abused and neglected in Tarrant County in 2014 than in any other Texas county, according to data released Tuesday by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Investigators confirmed that 6,097 children were abused or neglected, according to the department’s Data Book for 2014, an annual report compiled by the agency.

Eleven children in Tarrant County died of abuse or neglect in 2014, the fourth most in Texas, according to the Data Book.

Parents were the abusers 4 in 5 times, the report says.

“Raising kids is challenging,” said Barbara Lamsens, executive director of the Parenting Center of Fort Worth, a nonprofit organization in its 40th year of providing parenting education.

“There are a lot more things that parents have to deal with, like porn, predators and bullying.”

The number of cases jumped by more than 400, from 5,689 in 2013, partly because of population growth. The number gave Parenting Center workers pause because it was such a big increase in one year, said Crystal Cardwell, the development director.

“It’s something that kind of knocks us back to square one,” she said.

Not knowing where to get help and lacking access to computers for information contribute to abuse and neglect, advocates said.

“A lot of these families don’t know where to go to get help. They don’t Google,” Cardwell said. “And then, once you realize what the problem is, then what?”

Cardwell said the most common perpetrators are single white women ages 26 to 35.

“Most of these parents aren’t bad people; they are just stressed,” Cardwell said.

Community leaders gathered with parents Tuesday to make and fly a fleet of blue paper airplanes inside the Worth Heights Community Center gymnasium, a symbolic gesture to draw awareness to the problem.

“Instead of a fight mentality, we want to see our families take flight,” Cardwell said.

Angelica Melendez, 35, of Fort Worth said she has taken advantage of the Early Childhood Matters classes offered at the community center since her children, 4 and 9, were toddlers. ECM is a kindergarten preparatory program run by the Fort Worth Library, said Victoria Capik, a library official.

Speaking in Spanish to an interpreter, Melendez said: “I wanted to be a better teacher for my children. I wanted to learn how to be a better mom and raise better children. This program helped me make a difference.”

Most children want to be good, Cardwell said.

Ann Zadeh, District 9 Fort Worth councilwoman, said she benefited from training as a young parent.

Zadeh said that when she sought parenting assistance, she believed her toddler — now 17 — was a difficult child. Turned out, he was just being a toddler, she said.

Tuesday’s paper airplane launch was a precursor to the Fort Worth Fight or Flight event April 18, when more of the blue planes will be launched to raise awareness and highlight April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

Fort Worth Fight or Flight

▪ 2-4:45 p.m. April 18

▪ West Seventh and Crockett streets

▪ A paper airplane launch will raise awareness about abuse and neglect in Tarrant County. Councilman Sal Espino will speak. The proceeds will benefit the Parenting Center.

▪ The cost is $10. Register at the Parenting Center. Participants can help get Fort Worth in Guinness World Records by flying the most paper airplanes at a single event.

▪ An advice line for parents is answered by center employees from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday: 817-332-6399.

A closer look

Some statistics about child abuse and neglect in Tarrant County:

▪ About 41 percent of abusers are ages 26 to 35, and nearly 23 percent of victims are ages 1 and 3.

▪ Of the 529,400 children from birth to age 17 in Tarrant County, 6,097 were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect

▪ A total of 198 state Child Protective Services workers reviewed almost 19,000 reports of abuse or neglect.

Confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect from the four most populous Texas counties.

Tarrant County

2014 — 6,097

2012 — 5,598

2010 — 6,222

2008 — 5,804

Harris County

2014 6,070

2012 — 5,383

2010 — 6,535

2008 — 6,365

Dallas County

2014 — 5,967

2012 — 5,107

2010 — 5,591

2008 — 5,403

Bexar County

2014 — 5,434

2012 — 6,205

2010 — 5,999

2008 — 6,612

Source: The numbers in the article and the chart are from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Data Book for fiscal 2008 through 2014. The Texas fiscal year is Sept. 1 through Aug. 31.

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