Special Report: Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect on the Rise in West Texas

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

ODESSA--"We want to to do everything we can to ensure that child and that family gets everything they need during the entire course of the time they come here," Rodney Hall, Executive Director of Harmony Home in Odessa, said.

Harmony Home opened in 1993, as one of the first children's advocacy centers in Texas. 

According to Hall, they stay pretty busy, "On average, we get about, between 30 and 45 kids a month.  About 75% of our cases that we see are serious, child sexual abuse."

They help abuse victims from ages 3 all the way up to 17 in a 12 county area.  Their team is made up of 26 law enforcement agencies and 5 child protective services units.  The main objective, get the child the help they need to make their lives as normal as possible.

"We want that child to know that it's not their fault, they shouldn't be ashamed and that they are receiving the help they need," Hall explained.

Everything begins with the initial interview.  Counselors meet within the child's comfort zone, so they'll feel more at ease.

"Something that's probably the most traumatic thing in their lives has just happened and we want them to feel comfortable.  We don't want them in a stark white police room or in a waiting room somewhere that's uncomfortable.  This is made for them, so we want them to feel comfortable," Program Director, Shawndee Kennedy, said.

The initial intake interviews are done as soon as possible after the report is received.  According to Kennedy, "I think the best information that you're going to get, is as soon as the outcry has been made because that's when it's fresh on their mind and all that information is just right there.  It's usually a very detailed interview."

Everything is caught on tape and later used as evidence in court.   Kennedy says, the kids know upfront, what's going on and why, "I want them to know everything I know.  I don't want to  jeopardize that trust."

And there's still much more help available for these children.  They're provided counseling and therapy, if it's needed.   And it's here, where sometimes more details of the abuse are learned.
Kennedy explains, "They will act out scenes in the doll house that have happened to them.  They will put themselves in rooms and situations and it's their way of telling or showing the therapist what's happened."

Therapy is also a place for these innocent victims to let out some emotion with the help of a punching bag named Bobo.

"This hole right here was put into the wall by Bobo, a 7 year old boy, punching Bobo into the wall and it cracked the wall.  That's why we've never fixed it.   It's important for us, as a staff, to understand that this was actually done by a child, and the anger that they felt," Kennedy said.

But, how do you know if a child or teen is a victim of abuse or neglect?

Hall tells us what to look for, "Are their grades dropping off?  Is there a drastic change in attitude or behavior without warrant?  With the smaller kids, are they afraid to be around a certain sex or a certain person?"

And he has some good advice for parents, listen to your little ones.

"If their kid is coming to them and asking certain types of questions, listen.  A kid may have a larger range of knowledge of sexual types of things at an age that they shouldn't know," Hall said.

If you recognize any of these warning signs, you should call your local law enforcement or CPS immediately.