DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - There were nightmarish conditions for a 6-year-old boy rescued from a padlocked shed in Dallas over the weekend.
During an interview with child abuse experts, the boy told investigators that he "is always left in the backyard and not allowed to come in the house," that his grandmother "bathes him outside by spraying him with water," and that he was given a bag to use as a restroom. Those documents also detailed conditions in the shed, saying it was infested with rats and insects.
The boy's grandmother, 53-year-old Esmeralda Lira, and her boyfriend, Jose Balderas, were both arrested and are being held on $100,000 bond each on felony child endangerment charges. Neither will be released because of immigration holds.
And while the community has responded with both outrage and anguish, local child advocates know the community is better served with action.
"Just keep your eye out, if you're at the grocery store, or if walking in your neighborhood, and you see something suspicious, or something that just makes your gut not feel well, make a report," said Lynn Davis, President & CEO of the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center. "If you're wrong, that's okay, too. At least it was investigated and we know that child is safe. If you're right, you're perhaps saving that child's life."
While not speaking about a particular case, Davis is among the experts at DCAC who have been raising an alarm for months -- concerned about the unprecedented drop in abuse reports.
"Statewide, we're down about 50% on referrals," said Davis. "But, we also know that the people that generally make the reports are your daycare centers, and your schools, and your after school programs. Well, none of those folks are seeing our children these days and we know as soon as we get back to semi-normal and the kids get back to school, those reports will skyrocket."
But, abused kids can't wait.
The 6-year-old rescued from the padlocked shed told police that the abuse started when "he got out of school for this corona thing." He was apparently being punished for stealing food. Two other children in the home were removed and placed in CPS custody.
Child advocates are urging North Texans to take advantage of online resources to learn how to spot abuse -- especially now that adults have fewer opportunities to intervene.
"We also know that the longer the physical abuse goes on in a family, the worse it generally gets," said Davis, "and if nobody is making those reports and nobody else outside the home is seeing those kids, we know the abuse is going to get worse and worse."
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