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Poverty linked to increase in Texas child abuse cases

Domestic violence and child neglect cases have soared in Texas since 2008. Some experts say the sluggish economy has contributed to the emotional and financial instability of families. Texas child welfare services are working on frozen or downsized budgets to tend to family law cases of child custody.

New U.S. Census data show that poverty spread to nearly 1.7 million children in Texas. More than one in four children in Texas lives below the lowest federal income standards. Social observers say the widespread poverty among children is linked to the 6 percent increase in child abuse cases in the last three years.

A policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities believes Texas parents have been pushed "over the edge" by the economic recession. The director of Austin's SafePlace, a domestic abuse shelter and service provider, says abuse symptoms existed before the financial fallout, but worsened with the financial downturn.

New budget slashes have crippled Child Protective Services' ability to help kids in abusive situations. That includes a 44 percent cut in CPS child abuse prevention funding this year. The budget restraints and an increased caseload mean child welfare and family services are stretched thin.

In the midst of cutbacks, shelters are seeing more people who need help, especially teenagers. The Austin shelter said the number of teens in its emergency services program rose more than 20 percent since last year. The number of teenage shelter occupants grew by 27 percent.

According to officials, young people are forced to live in shelters longer because no jobs are available for them. The average length of time a teen spends in the Austin shelter is about two months, double the time it was three years ago.

A revamped version of the Department of Family and Protective Services pay structure is due out next year. It intends to rework the foster care system to keep kids closer to home and prevent them from being shuffled among several foster care homes.

While child welfare providers welcome the change, one shelter official said the new program could bleed money away from other valuable services, helping some children while causing others to suffer.

Source: The New York Times, "Poor Economy Leaves More Children at Risk," Claire Cardona, Dec. 2, 2011

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