HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — As April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month, local agencies have reported an increase in cases over the last year.
184 children in Texas are confirmed as victims daily and more than four children die on average every week from neglect or abuse, according to TexProtects.
The Executive Director of Valley Haven Inc., Kristen Millon said in the four years their emergency children’s shelter has been open, they’ve aided about 1,000 children. Of that, Millon reports over 100 since 2022.
Millon added she believes those number of placement requests are due to a lack of foster care homes.
“Most of the time, child abuse cases end up in foster care,” said Millon.
The difference in Hispanic culture in the Rio Grande Valley also adds to the increase in requests, according to Millon.
“A lot of old school parents do still have that mentality and unfortunately, it does backfire because nowadays you can’t,” said Millon. “There’s a lot of things we have to change and I mean, there’s also a lot of studies that show that spanking doesn’t work and there’s a lot of different things you can do instead.”
According to the American Psychological Association, physical punishment can work momentarily to stop problematic behavior because children are afraid of being hit, but it doesn’t work in the long term and can make children more aggressive.
Millon suggests taking an alternative approach to physical punishment such as giving choices to the child, giving the child a timeout, or taking away their privileges.
Aside from aggression, Millon has seen abuse by heartbreak from the people they’ve trusted the most. “Your parents are your people, these kids wonder why.”
The abuse has also been seen to instill that same behavior in hitting the child. When someone or something upsets the child, they retaliate in the form of hitting.
Millon told ValleyCentral that most of the time, victims of child abuse don’t know any better because this type of behavior is all they’ve ever experienced.
“When kiddos have been through these traumatic events in their lives and when they become adults, they have a hard time setting boundaries and not being able to, I guess get in inappropriate relationships or unhealthy relationships because that’s all they’ve ever known, so it does trickle down from when it starts to the rest of their lives,” stated Millon.
Child abuse has also been linked to causing the inability to trust, self-doubt, anxiety, and depression, according to Millon.
Millon added Valley Haven Inc. is typically full and is Cameron County’s only emergency children’s shelter, but they’re always looking to help out children in need.
Once a child walks through the doors of Valley Haven Inc., they’re provided with clothing as Millon said most children walk in with only the clothing on their back.
Each child is then examined by a physician, dentist, and sometimes a psychiatrist.
Valley Haven Inc.’s children are then enrolled in school where Millon said they can make their own choices in regard to the sports or extracurriculars they’d like to join.
“We try to have the most normal situations that we can for our kiddos considering their situation,” said Millon.
Valley Haven Inc. is able to house children as they have a 36-bed facility in Harlingen.
Millon wants each child to feel as if Valley Haven Inc. is their home while staying there.
If you suspect a child is being abused, there are a multitude of child abuse prevention agencies in the Rio Grande Valley you can call for information and resources.
- Texas Department Of Family And Protective Services, (956) 969-9280
- Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties, (956) 287-9754
- Children’s Advocacy Centers of Cameron and Willacy Counties, (956) 361-3313
- The Bair Foundation Child & Family Ministries, (956) 291-3458
- Family Crisis Center Inc, (956) 423-9304
- Child Protective Services, (956) 381-5791
- Valley Haven Inc., (956) 893-0422