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Make child safety top priority

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First published in the Corpus Christi Caller Times

After police charged an Austin father with felony injury of a baby girl, he went on TV and said “I’m pretty confident that I’m going to get her back.”

This little girl had 25 broken bones, doctors said, with injuries to ribs, wrists, and pelvis, both acute and healing. The 2-month-old had trauma to internal organs and bruising over her body.

The baby’s mother had heard “crunching sounds” in the infant’s ribs. Crunching sounds. My heart breaks praying for this child.

Social media backlash was immediate. But are we, in our bubble of outrage, deluded to think that a court would never grant custody to a parent who has harmed a child?

Yes, sadly, Texas law does not make a child’s safety and health the top priority in custody cases.

When Texas law doesn’t prioritize safety, kids lose:

  • Father sexually molested daughter. Police found him waiting with a gun outside the home. Released, he lives in the family home while mother and two daughters moved to a shelter. He may never serve jail time nor lose parental rights.
  • Father assaulted mother multiple times, including attacking her as she held the baby. Court issued protective order for the mother, but none for the baby; father continues joint possession/custody.
  • Father had long history of violence, including slamming mother’s head into a refrigerator and tying a cord around a baby’s neck. CPS investigated and provided parenting services; a judge dismissed CPS legal intervention. Father murdered eight people, including his son, five other children, and their mother. You may not have heard much about one of the worst mass murders in Texas history, “just” another case of domestic violence in 2015 in Harris County.

On average, almost every day in 2015, a Texas child or woman was killed: 162 child maltreatment deaths and 158 women killed in domestic violence murders. Texas had 183,000 child maltreatment reports, outpacing other reporting states in victims whose caregivers had known risk factors of alcohol or drug abuse or domestic violence. There were more than 183,000 calls to domestic violence hotlines and 15,869 unmet requests for shelter.

This is unacceptable. We need a culture shift, with high expectations: All people, including kids, deserve kindness and respect. We should provide resources for proven interventions to protect and improve children’s lives. And we should prevent abuse with clear, consistent, and swift enforcement of laws.

For example, a community-wide zero-tolerance policy against domestic violence would send a message that a community won’t tolerate abuse. Consistent enforcement of protective order violations could prevent tragedies, such as the murder of two young girls in Dallas. The father had violated a protective order but wasn’t prevented from visitation with his daughters. He shot them while their mother listened in horror over the phone.

Another common sense measure: Courts should hold early hearings only on issues of abuse or domestic violence when they are alleged in a custody case and should give paramount consideration to the child’s safety.

Also, policymakers and courts should rely on solid, scientific research. Twenty years of “adverse childhood experiences” studies conclude that chronic or acute toxic stress in childhood can have damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health throughout a person’s life, with costly impact. The research literally speaks volumes about the need to prioritize children’s safety.

Abusive and unfit parents should not have the same rights and access as non-abusive protective parents. Lax Texas laws, coupled with CPS lack of capacity and clogged or misguided courts, increase horrendous rates of child maltreatment.

The Legislature should make clear that children and safety come first. Child/parent relationships are fundamental, but visitation rights can and should be abrogated when such contact risks danger to the emotional or physical health or safety of a child.
Ellen Williams, an Austin attorney, volunteers for the Stop Abuse Campaign.

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1 in 5 New York Kids Are Sexually Abused. Help Prevent That

The CDC reports that 1 in 5 children are sexually abused.

9 out of 10 of the perpetrators are never brought to justice and never appear on sex offender registries.

They are protected by New York State laws.

Sign this petition and change that. Protect NY Kids.

Sign Petition Now

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