SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Innocent, defenseless, voiceless.
That's how child advocates describe the nine children who died from abuse in Bexar County during 2018. That number is up from 2017, when eight children were killed.
Statistics from the Child Protective Services database show most child victims are under the age of 3. The issue has long been one of Bexar County's biggest, but now leaders are digging deeper, targeting its causes.
They say the goal is prevention, but they need the community's help to make a dent in the devastating numbers.
In 2018, more than 2,000 children in Bexar County were removed from abuse or neglect in their homes.
"The worst number is that there's nine child deaths specific to child abuse and neglect, and those numbers have got to come down," said child advocate Yolanda Valenzuela, who sits on the Bexar County Child Welfare Board.
She mentioned several of the devastating deaths that occurred last year.
- In July, a 2-year-old boy was found dead in a south side home with sores and bruises. He also had traces of drugs in his system. READ MORE
- Also in July, an infant's body was found in a suitcase during a drug raid at a home on Bronco Lane. READ MORE
- In August, 10-year-old Reanne Olivarez was killed at a home, and her autopsy showed blunt force trauma to her head. READ MORE
"They're all preventable," Valenzuela said.
She said stopping child abuse is only possible by addressing its underlying causes and triggers.
"The three highest triggers are domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health. Poverty would be a fourth," she explained. "That, a lot of times, is what causes those stressors for these individuals to end up lashing out at their children."
To relieve those stressors, Valenzuela said San Antonio's already robust network of nonprofits needs to connect more closely and make sure those in need know there are resources, whether it's accessing food and clothing or finding a rehab center.
"What we're trying to do is prevent the children from having to be removed from their parents or guardians," Valenzuela said.
She said change will only come if every community member takes responsibility.
If you see or even suspect abuse or neglect, call 911 or the child abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400.
If you need to find a specific organization or service for a family in need, you can call the United Way at 211.
On Monday, there will be an event to pay tribute to the innocent Bexar County children who lost their lives to abuse last year.
Local leaders, advocates and community members will gather at the Bexar County courthouse steps at 10 a.m. to lay out goals and make a pledge to better tackle the issue of child abuse.
KIPP Academy High School students will also recite a pledge they wrote, vowing to make Bexar County safer for children in the future.