HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — There are more than 600,000 cases of child abuse in the United States each year. Thousands of those are in the Rio Grande Valley.
If you’re in church this weekend, you may be asked to say a prayer to mark the final Sunday of child abuse prevention month.
According to the child abuse prevention non-profit Blue Sunday, around 8 million people will take part in their day of prayer on April 25. The day of prayer, also referred to as Blue Sunday, takes place on the last Sunday of April.
April is also known as child abuse prevention month.
“Not just pray for the children inside the church, but also outside of the church walls. And most importantly, pray for those who are on the frontlines trying to rescue children from abuse and neglect,” said Cornelia Garza, a faith-based specialist with Child Protective Services, who work closely with Blue Sunday.
For 27 years, Blue Sunday has been raising awareness about child abuse in the Rio Grande Valley. For the past several years, they’ve been helping child protective services with foster work in the area as well.
Garza said that non-profits like Blue Sunday are “absolutely needed.”
“They are an amazing support to not just the children in care but to the families in care and also to the staff,” Garza said.
Garza said that she’s worried that as the pandemic winds down, the number of children in need of Blue Sunday’s services will start to go up.
While they never closed during the pandemic, the number of child abuse reports was lower in 2020 than in 2019. The CDC estimates that anywhere between 20 and 70% fewer reports to child protective agencies took place during the height of the pandemic.
“We’re going to have more children coming into care, more children waiting for placement, more children really just in need of help. In need of help from their own community,” said Garza.
Whatever the next few months or years look like, Blue Sunday will continue to raise awareness about child abuse until there is none.
“Just seeing those families turned around, and just making that difference and that impact in our community. One child, one family at a time,” said Garza.
Child abuse prevention month might be coming to an end, but the efforts of groups like Blue Sunday will impact children for a lifetime.
In a field with potential to be so dark, Garza said cherished memories made everything worth it.
When asked what her favorite memory from her career was, she told KVEO about a 13-year-old she helped years ago.
She was driving him home from therapy one day, pointing out the nature around them and talking with him about how proud she was of him.
“I was so proud of him for being assertive enough to say he did not want this to happen, or to see his parent,” recalled Garza. “He was sitting in the backseat, buckled up, and all I heard was ‘Ms. Cornelia, when I grow up, I want to be a caseworker just like you,” said Garza, tears welling up in her eyes.
To learn more about Blue Sunday, or to donate, visit their website.