By Marc Robertson
Associate Judge Melissa DeGerolami was joined by children’s advocates, service providers and law enforcement representatives Monday morning, April 3, in the La Salle County District Courtroom for a brief ceremony marking Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, encouraging local participation in education and intervention for the sake of youngsters.
“The county of La Salle prides itself in giving back to the community, contributing to the quality of life among its citizens,” the judge read from her proclamation, adding that she is confident in the work carried out by the children’s advocacy groups, protective services and shelter organizations, and that they “speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children who are involved in the juvenile courts.”
Statistics indicate that approximately nine children in La Salle County suffer from some form of confirmed abuse or neglect every year, but the number of children who receive vital services and whose home situations are under examination to ensure that the youngsters are protected from harm is far higher, according to Mikey Betancourt, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of South Texas, a child advocacy group that operates a service center in Cotulla. Betancourt showed that in the month of March alone, at least 65 children underwent forensic interviews at the Children’s Alliance facility in Cotulla. Interviews include investigations into cases of possible abuse or neglect but also include meetings with siblings of children who have been victimized, in order that case investigators may determine the level of risk at which other family members may stand.
“Through a national effort, La Salle County community members are encouraged to join together to raise awareness for those children fallen victim to abuse and neglect,” Judge DeGerolami said on Monday. “This effort will give abused and neglected children in our community and around the country a chance for a safe and positive future.”
The judge encouraged all those present to spread awareness of children’s plight in the community and to promote intervention in cases involving child abuse or neglect.
“I urge all citizens to join me in a national effort to raise awareness and help prevent child abuse and neglect,” the judge said.
Present to witness the proclamation were CASA of South Texas Executive Director Joni Garcia and Outreach Coordinator Francie Gasch; Children’s Alliance of South Texas Executive Director Mikey Betancourt and staff members and forensic interviewers Jessie Galindo, Kasey Brown and Rebekah Garza; Wintergarden Women’s Shelter representative Diane Gonzalez; Woman’s Club of Cotulla members Mary Jane Treff, Novella Byrd and Minerva Rios; La Salle County Sheriff Miguel Rodriguez, Sgt. Investigator Esmeralda Gonzalez and Victims’ Advocate Rosario Morales; La Salle County Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Vicki Rodriguez; La Salle County Attorney Elizabeth Martinez; interpreter Joaquin Toranzo and Cynthia Toranzo; Texas Department of Family & Protective Services caseworker Liliana Gonzalez; Attorney Susan Stacy; and Child Protective Services representative Erik Stark.