Local experts shed light on child abuse — how to recognize the signs

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HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — According to the Children’s Advocacy Center for Hidalgo and Starr County, in 2020 there were 1,663 children in the RGV who were subject to child abuse, with Edinburg serving the most at 337 children.

The Children’s Advocacy Center states on their website that “every day in the valley, a kid is physically, mentally or sexually abused.”

South Texas Health System Critical Care Physician Dr. Maria Camacho told ValleyCentral in her time as a physician in the RGV, she has seen physical violence affect younger children, whereas sexual and mental abuse will affect teenagers.

Camacho added that physical abuse mainly takes on the form of fractures, but those cannot be seen at the surface level. The physical abuses that can be seen are burns or skin lesions.

“We are required to involve CPS (Child Protective Services) if we have any suspicions. That’s the next step,” said Camacho. “We are not here to be the judges. We’re not here to investigate. We’re here to take care of the patient.”

STHS sees child abuse cases more often than not, with 1 or 2 resulting in death every year, according to Camacho.

Harlingen social worker Cynthia Burns has been a licensed social worker since 1992. She said, in her professional opinion, child abuse stems from alcohol or drug abuse. It may also stem from the abuser having been abused at some point in their life.

Burns takes part in the investigative process when CPS is called where she checks in with the family and said, “Basically, you’re just left with the aftermath of trying to help them deal with what’s happened to them.” She added that it’s not so much physical abuse, but more so psychological abuse.

When a child has been subjected to psychological abuse, the child may present as antisocial, have speech disorders, substance abuse, and delayed physical development.

“It’s hard. Kids don’t have any rights per say when you’re underage. You are under the care of wherever you landed in this life,” said Burns.

According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, each year more than 59,919 children receive critical services at one of the 71 children’s advocacy centers in the state.

Dr. Camacho said the first step in helping a child in need is suspecting, and that it never hurts to report.

If you do suspect child abuse, you can anonymously submit a tip through the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400. It is toll-free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week nationwide. You can also submit a report through their secure website and receive a response within 24 hours.

The Texas Abuse Hotline will not accept any reports of abuse through email though.

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