By Christina M. Briseno and Katherine Garcia
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and this college’s early childhood center will raise awareness by participating in the city’s Cardboard Kids project.
Ana DeHoyos, early childhood studies professor, picked up 60 cardboard silhouette cutouts of children from Child Safe SA.
Students in the program decorated each cutout with a name and story.
Christina Schoonover, assistant director of development for Child Safe, said while the stories and names behind the cutouts may be fictional or non-fictional, it’s the awareness the cutouts bring that counts.
A state agency ranked Bexar County fourth in Texas for confirmed child abuse and neglect cases.
In 2014, of 66,572 such cases in Texas, 5,434 occurred in Bexar County, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
“That’s not a thing to be proud of; that’s embarrassing,” said Ana DeHoyos, early childhood studies professor. “Last year, students and I attended a city budget meeting, and our citizens demanded more street repair … rather than demanding services for children and family.”
She said the community should urge city officials to increase support for organizations like Child Safe San Antonio, an advocacy center providing specialized services to physically abused, neglected or sexually abused children.
According to cardboardkidssa.com, the cutouts are meant to share stories, start conversations and be “teachable moments” for kids and parents to discuss body safety.
The site suggests discussing body ownership, being persistent when telling an adult if someone hurts them and getting away from inappropriate touches.
“Students took the silhouettes and chose a public place in their community to place them,” said Randall Gladder, early childhood studies adjunct.
As future advocates and teachers, students learn to lead parents to educational resources and reduce child abuse.
“Our code (of conduct) is that we are responsible above all not to harm children,” DeHoyos said. “Also, to provide information to our parents and community about the care of a child.”
Child abuse consists of physical, neglect, psychological and sexual abuse. Considering all these topics, faculty teach students what their responsibility is as a teacher.
If a teacher notices a parent screaming at a child or a child has not been bathed, the teacher must get answers, she said.
“That’s when you have to find out: do they not have water? Are they living out of their car?” she said.
Professor Linda Lowman served as a volunteer court- appointed special advocate, or CASA, for 13 ½ years.
The county has a special court for child abuse cases. When Lowman was assigned a case, she would know everyone associated.
Each case would take Lowman 20-25 hours per month. At the end, Lowman recommended to have the child return to the parents or be placed for adoption.
“In Bexar County, we had a lot of terminations — terminating a lot of parental rights, which meant those parents would never get their children back,” she said.
The department also encourages students to vote. When a candidate says children are the future, voters should ask what will be provided for children and their families so they become the future, DeHoyos said.
“If they don’t have the protective factors, then they’re not going to be our future,” she said. “We rally on child abuse when it’s too late.