Advocates for children press their case at the state Capitol
Oren Dreeben hopes he is put out of business some day.
Dreeben, president and CEO of the Children's Shelter in San Antonio, joined Sen. Carlos Uresti and dozens of advocates for children at the state Capitol Tuesday to mark Child Abuse Awareness Month and take the case for child protection directly to legislators.
"We don't have high-paid lobbyists for children," Uresti said at a new conference launching the Blue Ribbon Task Force Advocacy Day. "These people are the lobbyists for children."
Uresti noted that in 2007, there were 240,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in Texas, mostly involving infants and pre-school children, and 223 children died that year – "a number that we as a state simply cannot accept."
The direct cost of child maltreatment to the judicial system, law enforcement and health system approaches $900 million a year, he said.
Dr. Roberto San Martin, president of the Bexar County Medical Society, said it is not uncommon to see four abused children in intensive care in a single week.
"I see kids with skull fractures. I see kids with broken bones. I see kids with cigarette burns," said San Martin. "I look forward to the day I can come to the office and not see any more hurt kids."
Dreeben, whose organization arranges temporary care for abused children, said the state must adequately fund prevention and early intervention programs designed to keep kids from harm.
"With your help, we'd like to put ourselves out of business," he told Uresti.
Dreeben, San Martin and other child advocates pressed their case with state lawmakers, seeking support for a package of bills designed to treat and prevent child abuse and neglect.
Among them is Senate Bill 1050, sponsored by Uresti, which would reform the data collection process at Child Protective Services and require it to release more information on child fatalities caused by abuse. He is also sponsoring Senate Bill 1052, creating a Bill of Rights for children in foster care.
On April 1, the Senate adopted a $182 billion budget that did not fully address all the needs of CPS and its parent agency, the Department of Family and Protective Services. But at the urging of Uresti and others, the Senate came back the next day and added $12 million for an important prevention program.
"This money that will allow caseworkers to visit many more children who are in danger of being mistreated," Uresti said. "The need for prevention is clear, and we will do all we can to make sure this money stays in the final version of the bill as the House proceeds with its budget process and we go to conference."
Article XI of the Senate's budget contains a list of items that won't be funded unless additional revenues can be identified, including $30.5 million for caseworker recruitment and retention; $6.2 million for increased prevention services; $3.3 million to expand services to youth transitioning from foster care; $7 million to increase client services and add program support staff; and $2.8 million to strengthen services to families.
"These items are critical to CPS's mission," Uresti said. "They should be on the list of priorities."
Carlos Uresti is the senator from State Senate District 19 representing over 750,000 residents throughout a 23 county area stretching along the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Antonio to El Paso County, including all or part of the following: Bandera, Bexar, Brewster, Culberson, Crockett, El Paso, Edwards, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Kinney, Loving, Maverick, Medina, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Ward, and Winkler counties. Covering 55,000 square miles, the district contains 62 school districts and spans two time zones.