The Fannin County Children’s Center and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Grayson County are calling attention to the rising number of child abuse cases over the last year.

In a recent press release, the FCCC said it received 266 news referrals and its investigators conducted 240 interviews between Sept. 1, 2017 and Aug. 31 this year, effectively doubling the previous year’s figures. Development Coordinator Abigail Hill said, within the same time period, the Grayson County CAC conducted 356 interviews and directly served 733 children — 100 more than in 2017.

“Child abuse is a growing issue and it goes with every socioeconomic group, every race, every demographic,” Hill said.

Each organization cited growing populations within their respective counties as the primary driver behind the increase, but noted that the higher number of cases doesn’t necessarily equate to higher rates of child abuse. FCCC Executive Director Sandy Barber said a greater understanding of what constitutes child abuse and several other important changes may have influenced the FCCC’s numbers.

“The big question, of course, is why are we seeing such a significant increase?” Barber said in the release. “I think one factor is that our local CPS (Child Protective Services) office is more fully staffed and supported than they have been in the past. Another factor is that, last year, the (Fannin County) Sheriff’s Office got a grant to hire an investigator who could specialize in working crimes against children cases.”

Both Barber and Hill cited the #MeToo movement as another possible factor in the rising number of reported child abuse cases. The movement, which gained momentum in 2017 as a way for victims of sexual assault and abuse to share their stories on social media, has led to resignations and oustings of dozens of high-profile men in the business and entertainment industries.

“I think that has moved on to kids as well and made them more comfortable speaking out,” Hill said of the movement. “And I think that it’s made adults more aware of the potential and more willing to listen when a kid speaks out about abuse.”

The rising number of cases has also placed a strain on the agencies’ resources, staff and facilities. In order to handle the influx of cases and clients, Barber said the FCCC has had to repurpose rooms, consolidate offices and reconfigure layouts within its facility. But Hill said, ultimately, the organization has outgrown its current base and must find a new and larger home.

“For over a year now, we’ve been really researching what other CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and Children’s Advocacy Centers look like,” Barber said. “We’ve been looking for land that would be available, we’ve got some preliminary drawings set up, those sorts of things. So we’re moving forward and trying to find a bigger space.”

Though the need for a new facility is not as pressing a matter for the Grayson County CAC, Hill said the agency’s staff has more than doubled in recent years.

“We are currently at 11 staff members, but just about five years ago, we were only at four staff members,” Hill said. “As for the space, we anticipate that we will probably outgrow our current building within the next decade.”

Hill said of all the child abuse cases handled by the Grayson County CAC, roughly 80 percent involve some form of sexual abuse. But she explained that researchers, service providers and a growing portion of the public have all begun to see that child abuse takes many forms, meaning more victims can be identified and more resources are needed to help them.

“Different things that we might not, traditionally, have considered child abuse are adverse experiences,” Hill said. “That’s everything from witnessing domestic violence to having parents who are serious drug abusers or have major mental illnesses. These things have a major negative impact on children as well and they need services to go on to be healthy members of society.”

Barber said children are rarely the ones to speak out about their abuse, so it’s imperative that all adults take advantage of the two agencies’ free educational opportunities, which can help them recognize indicators of abuse and learn prevention strategies.

“We regularly offer free classes that delve into the signs to watch out for, what to do when you suspect something is going on, who you reach out to to report and other ways to keep kids safe,” Barber said.

Hill said adults often hesitate to report their concerns of possible child abuse because they feel as though they lack the evidence to support their claims. But Hill said anyone who is concerned for a child’s well being should contact their local CPS office and law enforcement department.

Though Hill said there are many in Grayson County and Fannin County who are fortunate enough not to be affected first-hand by child abuse, the issue affects the entire community and all can help to combat it.

“Every individual has a role to play in keeping kids safe in our community,” Hill said. “Whether that’s watching out for the kids in your life, volunteering at a local non-profit, like the CACs, or financially supporting them, everyone needs to step up and take a stand against child abuse.”

To report concerns of child abuse, contact Children’s Protective Services in Grayson County at 903-892-0580, or in Fannin County call 903-583-5535.