HCCAC, law enforcement heroes to area children

Something as simple as taking a moment for a conversation with a child can make a world of difference in that child’s life. Children are special little people and need to be treated as such; they need to know they are important and we as a society need to help them realize this by taking the time to show them how much they mean to us.

I built strong bonds with many children throughout seven years working in the childcare field and learned so much about their little minds in that time.

So often I became frustrated with a child who struggled to use kind words among his or her peers, bullied others, and became frustrated at the smallest task. I realized that frequently, the cause of a child’s negative behavior was rooted in something going on inside their overstimulated minds. The child may have had a rough night’s sleep, got in trouble before being dropped off at daycare, or simply missed their mom and dad and were unsure of how to express the emotions they were feeling.
When mishaps occurred, my first reaction was to correct the child out of frustration, as is the reaction of many childcare workers and parents. But I soon learned that children will respond negatively to negative situations. They are products of their environment, of course, and many people seem to overlook the fact that even the smallest amount of negativity from an adult could shape how that child deals with similar situations in the future.

I soon learned that the best way to respond to situations is to step back, take a deep breath, and consider what might be the reasoning behind an outburst. The next step is to sit down with the child and ask how they were feeling, why they stole their friend’s toy, or lashed out and yelled in a friend’s face. I admit it was sometimes difficult to find the time to do these things in the middle of a classroom full of tiny, wandering minds and bodies, but there is always a way to make it work, and it was always worth the effort in the end.

Frequently, the child responded to my question with “I’m sad,” or, “I miss my mom.” Children are so intelligent and sometimes they just need to be given the opportunity to tell an adult how they are feeling, and it was my job as a childcare provider to help the child sort through those feelings and find a solution to the problem instead of punishing the child for his or her reaction.

A difficult part of childcare is the occasional dilemma of possible abuse or neglect. I did not have to handle those situations too often, but they did happen, and as part of our training, our staff was required to learn the warning signs of possible trouble at home. Occasionally, we would learn the child acted out because he or she was hungry. Other times, the child might have been hurt emotionally or physically.

Too often in our area, children fall victim to abuse and neglect, and it was a hard truth to learn the deeper I got in the childcare field. Lately, I have learned a lot about the Hill Country Children's Advocacy Center and the services they provide for abused children in Burnet, Llano, Blanco, Llano, Mason, Lampasas, and San Saba Counties.

The personnel at the HCCAC dedicate their lives to serving children in dire need of support and medical and investigative services. Since 1992, the organization has provided children and their non-offending family members with a safe facility in which each step of the process following an abuse situation may be conducted, ensuring consistency and comfort for the children when they need it most.

Along with providing medical services, sexual and physical abuse exams, and in-house therapy, the HCCAC provides education about abuse prevention and awareness to children and adults in the community. Last year, the organization trained 1,000 educators, as well as over 5,000 children from Pre-K to eighth grade last year, spreading information throughout the area to help prevent abuse among children.

I attended the first annual Shine For Advocacy luncheon on Thursday, April 25, during which the HCCAC honored Burnet County Sheriff's Office Investigator Kristin Davis and the Lake Area Rods and Classics car club, who have provided services and monetary support for the HCCAC for a number of years.

During the luncheon, I, along with other many guests, learned that the HCCAC has conducted 116 interviews, provided 255 hours of therapy, and provided families with 273 advocacy services since January of this year. This tidbit of information demonstrated to everyone the absolute crisis our area's children are facing, and how serious it is to spread awareness about the issue and educate the community on recognizing sings of child abuse and how to report it, to take important steps in protecting our most treasured individuals.

According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, a few signs of physical abuse include frequent injuries, aggressive behavior, and the fear of going home, while signs of sexual abuse include sexual comments or play, difficulty sitting or walking, and fear of being alone with adults of a certain gender.

These among many other signs of various forms of abuse may be found on the DFPS website, dfps.state.tx.us, and it is important to become educated on recognizing the signs so we can work together as a community in protecting those who may have endured a traumatic event.

I was reminded every day of my childcare career how special children are and spent each day ensuring they were loved, given a safe space while their parents worked, and taken care of while they were under my supervision.

I had meaningful conversations with the older ones, rocked the babies to sleep, and sent everyone home with a hug at the end of the day, but I don't think I will ever have enough courage to face the negative impacts of child abuse that the HCCAC, CPS, and law enforcement personnel sees every day.

I applaud these individuals, as they dedicate much of their lives to serving those in need and come home to take care of their own loved ones; I applaud their families, who in turn dedicate their moms, dads, wives, and husbands to others who need their assistance so badly.

I thank these special people for being aware of the issues our communities face and for doing everything in their power to be the shoulder a child can lean on in a difficult time, and be heroes to those who need saving.

To learn about recognizing and reporting child abuse, visit the DFPS website, dfps.state.tx.us. To learn more about the services offered by the Hill Country Children's Advocacy Center, visit hccac.org.

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