Child abuse cases on rise in Fannin County

Jerrie Whiteley Herald Democrat
Blue “No excuse for child abuse” flags are a popular reminder of April being Child Abuse Awareness Month. Data Books from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services show there were 135 alleged victims of child abuse and neglect in Fannin County in the year that ended last August 31, a 25 percent increase over the previous year. (Chris Jennings / Herald Democrat)

Fannin County experienced a 25 percent increase in the number of victims of child abuse in 2016 over the previous year. Data Books from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services show there were 135 alleged victims of child abuse and neglect in Fannin County in the year that ended last August 31 and 108 in the year that ended August 31, 2015.

Officials who work with the abused children and their abusers say the reasons behind the increase in numbers are varied. Fannin County Children’s Center Executive Director Sandy Barber said the center has seen the numbers rise and fall in the past.

“It is hard to speculate why they go up and down,” she said.

Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser said the rise in the numbers can be attributed to things people are doing right, like reporting abuse when they suspect it. He said schools and other agencies are now required to report suspected abuse where they once weren’t. Glaser also said as more cases of child abuse get prosecuted, the children who are being abused see that trusted adults will listen to their outcries and take them seriously.

Glaser provided the numbers to the Herald Democrat that show crimes against children are up in Fannin County. For instance, in 2014 his office brought charges on 33 cases of abuse of a child and in 2015, that number was 31. Then in 2016, that number went up to 40. So far this year, the office has secured nine indictments for crimes against children.

The cases are broken out, Glaser showed, by a particular type of crime against a child and sometimes those numbers fluctuate. For instance, he said, in 2014, his office secured 10 indictments for the charge of indecency with a child. Then in 2015, the office secured four such indictments and in 2016, seven such indictments. However, in 2016, his office also secured 19 indictments for the charge of abandoning or endangering a child. His office secured no indictments for the abandoning or endangering charge in 2014 and only three in 2015. So far, four people have been indicted on that charge this year.

His office secured indictments for continuous sexual assault of a child — a charge that can carry a life sentence — twice in 2014 and once in 2015. His office secured that indictment twice in 2016 and once so far this year. The case indicted this year, Glaser said, is an example of an incident wherein the children continued to make outcries once they felt they were safe.

In April, grand jurors returned an indictment of continuous sexual assault of a child against Noemi Isobel Noria, the 41-year-old mother of Jhoel Noria, 12, who was struck by an automobile in September 2015 while waiting on a school bus. The investigation into the crash led to outcries of abuse by Jhoel’s siblings. Noemi Noria and others were indicted last year on sexual abuse charges. Earlier this month, Glaser said the most recent indictments came from the children being comfortable enough to continue to make outcries. Noemi Noria, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges she faces, is represented by Steven Miears, who did not immediately return a phone call Friday afternoon.

Some of the children at the heart of the indictments secured by Glaser’s office are removed from their homes. Barber said the number of children removed from their homes from Fannin County in 2016 was 46. By comparison, the number of children removed in the last five years has ranged from five to 20 per year in Fannin County, she said. She said those children often have to go to foster homes outside of the county because there simply are not enough such places in the county.

“The Fannin County Children’s Center has been experiencing a corresponding increase in demand for services,” Barber said, explaining children in foster care are matched with a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children. “In the fiscal year ending August 31, 2016, CASA served 83 children, which was a 50 percent increase over the previous year when 55 children were served.”

Barber said in the first seven months of the current fiscal year, CASA has already served 96 children.

The Children’s Advocacy Center, another program operated by the Children’s Center, generally provides 500-600 counseling sessions per year in Fannin County, Barber explained.

“During the year ending August 31, 2016, the center added a full-time therapist on staff and the number of counseling sessions provided increased to 789,” she said. “In the first seven months of the current fiscal year, the CAC has already provided 509 counseling sessions.”

Barber said the Children’s Center also provides free child abuse prevention training to the community and new classes are about to start in May. “Stewards of Children” begins at 5:30 p.m. on May 9 at the center.

“This class focuses on preventing child sexual abuse, as well as how to identify warning signs and how to respond when child sexual abuse is suspected,” Barber said.

The Children’s Center will also offer a 90 minute class called “Recognize and Report” on June 6. This class focuses on recognizing and reporting all types of child abuse.

Both classes will be held at the Children’s Center at 112 West 5th St. in Bonham. Barber said seating is limited, but seats can be reserved by contacting (903) 583-4339 or andrea@fanninccc.org. More information is available at www.fanninccc.org.