Harris County report shows rise in child abuse referrals

by David Monroe

News Reporter

A report from Harris County Child Protective Services indicates that the number of children referred for abuse is on the rise in the Houston area.

The report shows that in 1986, 22,000 children were referred to CPS. The number has steadily increased to 30,000 in 1995. The number of families referred to CPS increased to 14,000 in 1995 from 10,000 in 1986.

Martha Braniff, CEO of Child Advocates, said, "The main reason for the increase in the number of cases reported to CPS is that the public is being educated on child abuse."

"Thirty years ago, child abuse was not even an issue, but today, with all the sensational cases, child abuse has been put in the spotlight," Braniff said.

Last year alone, Harris County had 4,000 children in its custody at year's end, the report indicated.

"We see children that have been in all kinds of abuse, including sexual, mental, physical and life-threatening neglect," Braniff said.

Child Protective Services records show that in 1995, 5,973 families were reported for physical abuse, 2,204 for sexual abuse and 3,298 for neglectful supervision.

"At Child Advocates, we have 385 volunteers working to help 790 abused and neglected children," Braniff said.

The most abused children from the Harris County court system are referred to Child Advocates.

"Child Advocates likes to take a proactive role in helping the children that are in our services," Braniff said. "If left untreated, abused children lead traumatized lives and have emotional scars that follow them throughout life."

The report from CPS shows that approximately 85 percent of Texas prison inmates claim to have been abused as children, which translates into huge costs for the state. It also says taxpayers spend $25,000 per year to house one inmate in Texas.

Braniff said that even though the cases referred have increased, the real indicators of actual abuse show that cases are leveling off. Statistics show that the number of children taken into custody by CPS had leveled off at 1,000 in 1995.

These figures are promising, considering actual cases are staying the same, while referrals are increasing, Braniff said.

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