Child abuse 'hot spots' mapped out in Austin

From this vantage point it's impossible to see the problem. But now, for the first time, the child abuse problem in Austin has been pinpointed. Thursday maps identifying where the abuse is happening were revealed during a conference at dell children's medical center.

"I think particularly poignant was that services are not in the community where they might most be needed, and I think we expected to see that, but maybe not as dramatically as we did,” said Director of Trauma Research Dr. Karla Lawson.

The maps are based on 16,158 verified CPS case reports from 2003 to 2012. Areas shaded in a darker red are the hotspots for abuse in all of Travis County. Most of the cases are new individual offenses- and not enhanced by the continued abuse of a single child. 

"Only 1.6% were in the 3 to 5 substantiated reports per child, so it was a very small number in our sample that had multiple substantiated reports,” said Research Scientist Amanda Barczyk.

The majority of cases are located in a crescent shape zone that stretches from Pflugerville down through the east side of Austin. The maps were given to social service providers and local school officials to help develop new strategies on how to help the victims in what’s considered to be undeserved parts of town.

"So many of the mental health services in Austin are west of I-35, and a lot of our families cannot access them easily so it’s certainly important to have services all over the city, because you're right, it does know no boundaries, but there are communities that need more services than others,” said Seanna Crosbie with the Austin Child Guidance Center.

The maps may provide the push to provide social services to the hot spots, but the research team also acknowledges that the maps may place an unintended social stigma on neighborhoods identified as hot spots.

Linda Messina and Jim Weisman live in one of those East Austin hot spots for abuse. They moved there 12 years ago and are not surprised by the map.

"It’s just the makeup of the people who are living here now. It’s kind of, people are in and out, in and out, so I can imagine how situations and tensions can build with the kind of everybody who lives in the neighborhood,” said Messina.

City councilmember Greg Casar represents areas that are shaded in medium and dark reds. He understands some home owners may be upset by the maps- but believes - in the end- they will help and not hurt.

"In order to remove the stigma we need to talk about it, I think part of the challenge with child maltreatment is when people don’t talk about it, it sounds like something much more foreign than what it really is,” said Casar.

As providers work to find ways to expand social service programs-- the next step for the research team is to continue collecting data. The goal is to map all of metro Austin and eventually the entire State of Texas.