SAN AUGUSTINE COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - A Children's Service Building is long overdue. That's what San Augustine County Judge Samye Johnson said Tuesday at a Child Abuse Prevention Month ceremony. Construction could begin by the end of the year.
Child Protective Services worker Sonya Holman knows all too well the issues facing children in San Augustine County. She grew up there.
"Domestic violence and sexual abuse," Holman said.
Social workers and educators remembering victims of child abuse today said there are far more horrific child abuse incidences in San Augustine County than what is reported. Sonya has a good idea why.
"The family tries to handle the situation among themselves first and foremost, Holman said.
But even to call in an outsider, a person would have to drive to Lufkin or Nacogdoches for resources. Five years ago, Johnson made it her mission to bring peace to the children of her county.
"When you have a desperate need, and you're indigent you don't have resources to go out of county," Johnson said. "You don't have time to go out of county. And the focus isn't on what the real basic needs are."
Those needs were researched by Stephen F. Austin State University social workers. The study provided a wealth of factual information to seek grants for a Children's Service Building. Then there's the heartbreaking stories that resonate with educators who see neglected children every day.
"We provide extra counseling. We wash their clothes," said Leasa Dunna, the principal of San Augustine High School. "We make sure they get an extra serving on their lunch tray. We are that safe haven."
Retired teacher Mike Malone had a student who slept in a junk car in the dead of winter waiting to return to the safe haven of school.
"And he slept there in that car, waited there until the bus came the next morning to pick him up," Malone said. After an emotional pause, he added. "You know we have so many children like that in our county."
A quarter of a million dollar grant fell short for a children's service building. When a delegation approached a private funding source for the difference, they got an overwhelming question.
"What would happen if they would match the grant in its entirety?" said Roger Sanders, an architect with Goodwin, Lassiter, and Strong.
Instead of one building, there will be two adjoining facilities. Child advocacy organizations and CPS will have a place to serve families. Peace for the children of San Augustine County will become more likely.
In Texas, 151 children died at the hands of a parent or other caregiver in 2015. More than 66,000 were victims of abuse or neglect that year, and more than 17,000 were placed in foster care.