Remembering our smallest citizens during Child Abuse Prevention Month

On April 5, a cadre of advocates, elected officials, health care providers and volunteers came together to plant nearly 5,000 blue pinwheels on the rolling green lawn at Methodist Healthcare Ministries' corporate headquarters in San Antonio in observance of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The memorial preceded an assembly which brought together leaders and decision-makers in San Antonio to discuss how to prevent child abuse and neglect in our community. As I listened to the speakers talk about the 4,941 confirmed victims of child abuse in Bexar County last year, my eyes were drawn to the blue and silver pinwheels, glittering under the sun and spinning thanks to the breeze blowing that morning. Standing among the sea of pinwheels conjured memories of my high school graduation. There were 705 students in my graduating class. I thought about the class photo we took that day, and how I had never seen so many people in one place; it was a tidal wave of caps and gowns. But standing before all the pinwheels now made all the faces in the photo seem like drops in a bucket. I would have to multiply the number of students graduating with me seven times to equal the number of confirmed child abuse victims in just Bexar County alone last year. What's worse, is those are just the confirmed cases of abuse, the number is likely much higher when the number of cases that are not reported is factored in.

Since 2007, Bexar County has been one of five counties in Texas with the highest number of confirmed victims of abuse. In fact, in the years 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012 Bexar County held the top spot for the number of confirmed victims of abuse as reported by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services, beating out Harris County where the child population is at least double that of Bexar County.

To say child abuse is a problem in our community is a gross understatement. However, the number of confirmed victims in Bexar County has steadily declined in the last four years, in large part due to a concerted community effort to prevent and stop the cycle of child abuse.

Organizations like ChildSafe have done an incredible service to the community by raising awareness and creating a sense of urgency for advocacy through its Cardboard Kids initiative. And, agencies like Family Violence Prevention Services, Inc. strive to break the cycle of violence and strengthen families. Methodist Healthcare Ministries is proud to support both these organizations with funding to sustain their programs and services. In fact, this year, Methodist Healthcare Ministries will invest nearly $10 million in mental and behavioral health programs that offer children, youth and adults access to counseling and other support services.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries also operates programs designed to help parents and guardians become more confident and competent leaders within their families. Last year, the organization served more than 30,000 individuals in its Parenting Programs. Many of the programs' participants self-report having been involved with Child Protective Services. In fact, over 66 percent of the parents who have graduated from Methodist Healthcare Ministries' Nurturing Parenting Program® are in high need or "in crisis" as they are enrolled in the program by way of Child Protective Services referral, incarcerated and about to re-integrate with their families, and/or receiving mental health substance abuse treatment. These numbers speak only for the participants in programming offered by Methodist Healthcare Ministries, they do not include the individuals served through agencies that have received community grants for programs and services they operate. But, these numbers speak to the continued need for parenting support which is a key element in preventing child abuse.

As National Child Abuse Prevention month draws to an end and one-by-one we take up the pinwheels planted as a memorial to the abused children in our community, we at Methodist Healthcare Ministries remain committed to do all the good we can for all the families who rely on the programs and services we provide and support to keep them safe and healthy. And, to continue raising awareness in our community so our smallest and most vulnerable members are protected from harm.