The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services says it's caseload is up 20%, despite a U.S. Justice Department report indicating the number of children living in violent households nationally is down.
It's been a year and four months since the death of 4-year old Breonna Loftin. Prosecutors believe she died of blunt force trauma to the head at the hands of her mother's boyfriend. But a headline about the Justice Department's report reads, "Fewer kids living in violent households." According to the report the number is down 68%. Shari Pulliam with The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services says that alone is a little misleading, "Not all of our cases are prosecuted criminally. Being a civil agency we investigate every case that comes into us if it meets our criteria. I don't think that those numbers are reflected in that study."
So according to DFPS, in our region, cases are up. Pulliam tells 12 News HD, "Our intake is up 20% over last year. We are seeing a lot more physical abuse cases than we ever have."
In Jefferson County alone, there are 250 children in foster care. Pulliam says, "That does not count all the children that we are seeing every day on a day to day basis. We're investigating hundreds of cases, hundreds of cases every day that involve thousands of children."
Pulliam also says, 80% of those cases are drug or alcohol related. So in hopes of preventing cases like the hostage situation last Wednesday, December 12, 2012 in Port Arthur, or the kidnapping in Beaumont on Thursday, December 13, 2012 a task force called The Drug Endangered Children's Task Force has been organized to help these children. Johnnie Stewart is the Special Investigator Program Director for DFPS for regions 4 and 5. He tells 12 news HD, "Part of the task force is for the DA's office to start prosecuting some of these parents for child endangerment, along with the drug charges because a lot of these kids are exposed to a lot of dangerous chemicals and dangerous drugs."
Pulliam says as a result, "Our numbers are sky rocketing. Used to be neglectful supervision we saw the most of. This year, we're seeing a lot more physical abuse cases."
The task force is made up of the District Attorney's office, Beaumont Police Department, Garth House and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services but people have to report abuse they see.
The idea behind the task force is that DFPS caseworkers and police respond to drug arrests and all agencies work as a team from the beginning of a case so that children get help early on. But both Pulliam and Stewart say the task force can't reduce our region's numbers alone. Pulliam says, "People are closing their eyes and saying this is not our business. This is our business when a child is involved."
Pulliam also says cases involving children under school age often go unreported because they don't see adults outside the home on a daily basis. It means we need to be especially careful to watch for signs of abuse in kids younger than 6.
If you suspect abuse, DFPS asks that you call the state wide hotline number, 1-800-252-5400.