Child abuse cases increasing in Houston County
Houston County Courier
Dozens of community members gathered in front of the Houston County Courthouse for the 11th annual Memorial Flag Ceremony for Child Abuse Prevention Month April 3. Wearing blue ribbons and standing along the Courthouse lawn that is lined with blue pinwheels, attendees listened and prayed with county officials and Houston County Child Welfare Board members to raise awareness of child abuse in Houston County. "Children are the church of today, and children are the citizens of today," Rev. Tim Allen, president of the Houston County Child Welfare Board said in his opening remarks. "They have just as much right to be protected and to have those inalienable rights that we're given under our constitution and the pursuit of happiness." During the ceremony, Wanda Nichols and Louis Medina raised the Children's Memorial Flag. This is a new flag, Allen said, and now flies below the American flag and Texas flag in front of the courthouse. County Judge Erin Ford spoke at the event about the importance of children in the community before reading a proclamation that declares April Child Abuse Prevention Month. "I think about this Child Abuse Prevention Month, and our natural resources that we have in this country aren't oil; they aren't gas; they aren't minerals; they're not our timber; they're not our rivers. They're our children," he said. "And the more I'm in this position, the more I recognize how difficult the task is for these good people to care for children that have been neglected." Ford invited Precinct 1 Commissioner Roger Dickey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum to the podium before he read the proclamation which all four county commissioners signed. "Whereas, our society has a responsibility to protect our children and help them thrive. During Child Abuse Prevention Month, we underscore our strong commitment to preventing child abuse and neglect and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment," Ford read. County Attorney Daphne Session also spoke at the ceremony, first explaining the significance of the blue pinwheels lining the courthouse square. Each pinwheel represents a child in Houston County that has been a victim of abuse. More than 120 child abuse victims were reported in Houston County in the past two years, she said. Session also talked about the importance of Kalin's Center and its current efforts. Last year was the center's slowest year with 59 victims. Since September 2012, Kalin's Center has interviewed 51 victims and Session said she "is very afraid these numbers will continue to rise." There are three projects Kalin's Center is working on now, getting a new building, building a satellite interview office in Trinity County and recruiting a sexual assault nurse to work in both counties. "That's how much child abuse has grown in our two counties," Session said. "To where they have outgrown a building, they need a satellite office and a sexual assault nurse SANE) just for our two counties." Session also encouraged attendees to spread the word about the Blue Sunday campaign, where churches throughout the country will pray for child abuse victims and their rescuers on Sunday, April 28. "Can you imagine how powerful it would be if we could get every church to pray for these young victims on the same day in our county and throughout our country?," she said. "And that's basically what Kalin's Center is asking. We're asking for every church in Trinity County and Houston County and any county that you know of, to send a letter or notify someone to please pray for these children and for our rescuers on this last Sunday in April." Just one case of child abuse is one too many, Allen noted in his opening remarks, as he expressed gratitude for the law and Child Protective Services. Houston County residents care about protecting children, and if community members continue to value people and God's word, Allen said we can all stand strong against child abuse. "I can say first hand that we have a community that cares about children and cares about people, and I believe personally as a minister of the gospel that there are only two things that are going to last forever and we need to hold those valuable," he said. "And that is God's word and people, and as long as we lift those up to the level that God intended, we'll have a community that will take care of itself." In between the speakers and the flag raising, local ministers and other county officials led the attendees in prayer. Rev. Steve Meadows read an opening prayer, Rev. Jack Chase read a prayer for children and HCSO Chief Deputy G. P. Shearer led attendees in a prayer for child protective personnel. Rev. Patrick Evans concluded the ceremony with a final prayer. Also at the event, the Owens Sisters sang two songs a capella, the National Anthem and a version of "You've Got a Friend."