When O’Connell started working at CPS 20 years ago, she never imagined how severe and how often child abuse was happening, not just in region but across the state.
During the past seven years, nearly half-a-million children have been confirmed victims of abuse or neglect in Texas, and the numbers are on the rise, according to state figures.
“One of the things that the public does not fully understand is that abuse and neglect is absolutely occurring in their neighborhoods,” O’Connell said. “And the community doesn’t understand that Child Protective Services simply cannot do this alone.”
O’Connell recently was named the director for the Edinburg region, which includes 19 counties spanning from Corpus Christi to Laredo and south to the Rio GrandeValley.
Originally from upstate New York, O’Connell moved to Corpus Christi in 1990 and began her career in CPS in 1996 as a caseworker. She also has worked as a foster parent trainer, supervisor, program director and program administrator.
“Being put in this position means the world to me, because I think that this job is a job that has to constantly remind our employees why we come to work each day,” she said. “Sometimes in these governmental agencies there is a big focus on numbers, and I do believe that data is (are) important, but ultimately each one of those numbers is a child and we can never lose focus of that.”
Between 2008 and 2014, there were 483,079 total confirmed victims of child abuse and/or neglect in Texas. The numbers dipped in 2012 with a low of 66,362, but have increased since then with 68,576 cases in 2014. But despite a statewide increase, numbers in South Texas have continuously dropped. In 2014, the state reported 7,050 confirmed child abuse cases compared to 9,164 in 2008.
In 2014, Child Protective Services confirmed 5,563 child sex abuse cases in Texas. That year, the South Texas region was ranked the third highest with 750 cases, topped only by the Arlington and Houston, regions, which have a much larger population of children ages 0-17.
But when comparing the top five child sex abuse regions in Texas by rate of occurrence, South Texas is at the top with 10.7 cases compared to 7.2 in Arlington and Houston with 5.3 for every 10,000 children, the state’s data shows.
So what's your strategy, Ms OConnell? Twice the rate of sex abuse as Houston, is a call to alarm.
Texas appears in my blog far more often than most states. It is up there with Alabama, Oregon, Utah, and New York as state that most frequently contribute to this blog. That is not the least bit scientific, but is, nevertheless, concerning.