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Local educators trained to spot child abuse

By Meredith Shamburger
April 12, 2017 at 10:38 p.m.

Students from Ned E. Williams Elementary School in Longview ISD help release blue and white balloons Wednesday for Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.

The teachers at Ned E. Williams Elementary School often are on the front lines of identifying children who might be abused or neglected at home, Principal Cynthia Wise said.

"Any child who walks through that door, you know, we're there to greet them, there'll be some adult there to greet you," Wise said. "You could have a scar on your head and we'd go 'Hi, good morning! What happened? Where'd you get that?' "

That's why those same teachers are trained to look for signs of child abuse and why they're legally required to report potential abuse, Wise said.

It's also a reason Longview ISD teamed with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, East Texas CASA, Buckner Child and Family Services and the Martin House Children's Advocacy Center to hold a remembrance ceremony and program Wednesday at Ned E. Williams as part of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.

The goal of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month is to focus on ways to help children in abusive environments and to prevent abuse, and that mission was repeatedly talked about Wednesday by Longview ISD and county officials.

During the program, students sang and read a poem before helping to release two colors of balloons. Blue balloons represented all of the Gregg County children who have experienced abuse and neglect. White balloons were for children who have died as a result of abuse.

Between September 2015 and August, Gregg County had 1,078 investigations of child abuse or neglect, 532 confirmed victims, 135 removals and three deaths.

"For years, child abuse has been thought of as a private issue or something that's left to social workers and law enforcement," Wise said. "But we seek to engage all members of our communities, from churches to businesses to civic groups. It is everyone's responsibility to keep children safe. The more we can do to educate the community, the greater the probability we can reduce child abuse."

Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox called child abuse "a cancer on our society." Schools such as Ned E. Williams, he said, act as safe havens for abused and neglected children.

"They can come and be safe and understand the worth that they have and what they can do with their lives no matter what they're having to overcome away from school," he said. "They come here and they see hope and they see success and they see a future and they see an opportunity to move past what they may have been exposed to."

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