FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – A CBS 11 News investigation has found that, despite a staggering number of child deaths and injuries due to abuse, the state of Texas last year took away more than $27 million from programs meant to prevent such abuse.
The state's massive child welfare budget, written every two years, actually grew from $2.2 billion to $2.4 billion, as instances of child abuse increase. But the so-called "prevention and early intervention" programs within those budgets were cut by $27.4 million, CBS 11 has learned.
Texas' leading child advocates say those cuts hurt the most.
"It's wrong," said state juvenile court Judge Bill Mazur Jr.
Mazur, who has heard hundreds of child abuse and neglect cases in his Dallas courtroom, said he is most angry at the unfit parents who hurt their own child. He and others, however, are also not pleased with legislators for voting to drastically cut the budgets for preventative programs.
"Every Texan I know, if given the opportunity and given these facts, would tell their legislators, 'Don't balance the budget on this issue, not on the backs of the abused and neglected,'" Judge Mazur told CBS 11. "Cut from somebody who can afford to take the cut … but not from children who may die if you don't protect them," he said.
CBS 11 News began investigating Texas' child welfare breakdowns in February after an Ohio man, Kenneth Brandt, was charged with sexually assaulting three of four foster children placed in his home by the state of Texas.
He had been allowed to adopt three of the Texas children and was in the process of adopting the fourth, when he and two other men were charged with raping them. All three are awaiting trial in Ohio.
The CBS 11 investigation has found that nearly 66,000 Texas children were injured by abuse and neglect last year, with more than 13,000 of those cases occurring in North Texas.
Those statistics, provided by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, also show that Texas leads the nation in child deaths – 231 statewide, with 30 of those deaths occurring in Dallas County and eight in Tarrant County.
"Child abuse is an epidemic in Texas," said state Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), a member of the Health and Human Services Committee in the Senate. "We should be embarrassed, Texas should be embarrassed, when it comes to our efforts to prevent child abuse."
He said as his colleagues voted to cut the budgets of preventative measures to fight child abuse, he thought of the pictures he saw several years ago of a 4-year-old San Antonio boy, tied to a bed post and starved to death by a family member.
"When I saw those pictures, I swore … I took an oath … to the Lord that I was going to do everything I could in my power to try and prevent that" from happening again, the senator said.
And while Texas spends a lot of money, and does a "pretty good job," when it comes to dealing with child abuse once it occurs, "we do a horrible job when it comes to preventing it in the first place," Uresti said.
In its investigation, CBS 11 compared statistics that show child deaths and injuries are even higher in Texas than in California, where the child population is much higher.
And experts say there's a reason for that – California ranks fifth in the nation for the amount of money it spends per capita on child welfare, while Texas ranks forty-third.
Madeline McClure, executive director of the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, also known as TexProtects, said the child abuse problem in Texas goes largely unnoticed by the general public.
A prime example, McClure said, is illustrated by the 30 children killed last year in Dallas County in unrelated child abuse cases.
"Can you imagine if there had been a school shooting where 30 children were … killed by a gun. We would have a huge outcry; maybe new gun laws," she said. "But where are the (legislative) hearings for these hidden children … without a voice."
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