Child Protective Services workers release 71 balloons into the air Friday afternoon to commemorate the 71 children who were removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect in Anderson County last year.

Friday marked the first time members of the Anderson County Child Welfare Board came together in smoke and camaraderie to host a barbeque fundraiser in Reagan Park.

Over most residents' lunch hour, the volunteer organization served up heaping plates of brisket, beans and potato salad for a cause — delivering plates to those who could not attend — and selling out by noon.

Child Welfare Board Chair Joe Coleman said they organized the event to raise community awareness on the issue of child abuse.

“This year we had 71 children removed from their homes,” Coleman said during a short program at the barbeque. “And one of the things that the Child Welfare Board does is step in and try to fill in the cracks where the state will not provide funds, such as emergency funding, medical supplies, etc.”

Coleman then gave details of federal funding cuts to programs dealing with abuse and neglect, coupled with some jarring statistics that highlight the issue across the state.

“Last year, Child Protective Services (CPS) investigated more than 160,000 allegations of child abuse in Texas,” he said, adding that, “156 children died at the hands of their parents or their caregivers.

“There were 66,398 victims of abuse or neglect, and more than 17,000 had to be removed from their homes for their own protection.”

County Judge Robert Johnston then read a proclamation declaring April 2014 as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Anderson County.

“Whereas, nearly 200,000 children in Texas are reported as abused or neglected every year, and whereas child abuse prevention is a community responsibility and finding solutions depends on involvement among all people,” he said, noting that communities must make every effort to promote programs that protect children and their families.

Following the proclamation, CPS workers released 71 balloons into the air commemorating the 71 children who were removed from their homes in Anderson County last year.

Child Welfare Board secretary Susan Dorsey said that funds raised from Friday's barbeque will benefit the Anderson County Rainbow Room, an emergency resource center that distributes new items such as food, clothing and diapers to CPS clients in Anderson County.

According to a news release, the Child Welfare Board strives in educating the public on child abuse prevention and working towards ensuring that all children can grow up in a safe environment.

The barbeque fundraiser was sponsored by Encompass Home Health and Grace Visiting Nurses.

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