Lubbock County is not one of them.
Local child abuse rates have consistently been about twice the state’s average for the past 10 years, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The lack of child abuse prevention programs coupled with high teen pregnancy rates and poverty are all factors that may contribute to the high rates of child abuse in Lubbock County, experts said.
Local agencies and nonprofits have been working to alleviate child abuse in the South Plains, but Carolyn Simpson, president of the South Plains Coalition for Child Abuse Prevention, said Lubbock hasn’t been able to get its high rate of occurrence turned around.
“Sometimes families don’t have good role models. (It’s) a cycle where they came from a family where that’s how people are disciplined and treated, they think it’s normal,” Simpson said. “Sometimes they just don’t realize whatever issue or problem comes up in a family, you can solve it in other ways besides hitting or yelling; whether it’s mental or physical abuse, there are other ways to handle problems.”
For every 1,000 children in Lubbock last year, 18.9 were confirmed to have been abused or neglected.
With that high rate of child abuse, Carla Olson, executive director of the Parenting Cottage, said she doesn’t understand why funding for the prevention program was eliminated in the South Plains. She hasn’t been able to get an answer from the state either.
“The way the funding is set up right now, it’s almost like OK, we’re not going to do anything to prevent injury to you, but if you get injured or (a child dies), then we’re going to have some funding for you on the state level. It’s ridiculous,” Olson said. “There has to be a prevention component. … It would be like, in medicine, never doing any prevention tests, but after you get cancer we’re going to try and treat that for you. That’s what we’ve done with child abuse and neglect, only we’ve done it for decades that way and now you’ve got the problem that you’ve got.”
Educational programs could also teach new moms and dads how to manage the day-to-day stress associated with parenthood.
Stress inside a home could contribute to violent physical or emotional outbursts on children, said Paul Zimmerman, a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman.
“It could be somebody has anger management issues, it could be money issues, it could be that they’re young parents and they’re not ready to be parents and they still want to go out and party and do stuff like that when they probably should be taking care of their kid,” Zimmerman said. “Sometimes poverty is a contributing factor. Sometimes it’s a cyclic deal where the parents, when they were kids, were abused by their parents and that’s the way it is. That’s what they know. That’s how they understand (parenting).”
Prevention efforts can also connect families with the services they need to be self-sufficient despite poverty, Olson said.
“It’s like a domino effect,” she said. “If you fund prevention, you start taking care of these other things, too.”
It’s also important to remove the stigma of parenting programs for older parents as well as teen parents, who are at a different maturity level and emotional state, Olson said.
“You’re not born as a parent knowing about early childhood development and all these other things,” Olson said. “None of us are born with the ability to parent. It’s the most important job that we do and we have the least amount of training.”