Bexar County’s children’s advocacy center ChildSafe gave the first tour of its brand new $26.5 million Salado Creek campus on Thursday.

The 65,000 square-foot facility will house ChildSafe and partner organizations providing services to children who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse, experienced neglect, or have witnessed a violent crime.

“The new building is going to help us serve more children locally in a moment when the number of children needing services is” not declining, said Kim Abernethy, ChidSafe CEO. “From June 1, 2018, to June 1, 2019, we saw 395,000 [people]. This is a large number that keeps rising every year.”

Kim Abernethy, ChildSafe president and CEO

In Bexar County, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and almost one-third of those children are not old enough to be in school, according to ChildSafe data. In 2017, eight local children died as a result of injuries suffered from physical abuse.

Of the 5,588 confirmed cases of child abuse in San Antonio in 2017, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reported that more than 30 percent occurred in West San Antonio, in particular within 78207 and the zip code immediately to the northwest, 78228.

The organization’s Salado Creek campus was made possible through a $5 million grant from the Harvey E. Najim Family Foundation, individual donations, tax credits, and corporate in-kind donations, which were used to purchase a 36-acre plot of land along Interstate 10 and East Houston Street in 2017.

Harvey Najim

“Personally I was, am, and will always will be uncomfortable with almost 6,000 confirmed cases of child abuse in Bexar County. Our data shows we are not making progress as a community and that the same path will lead to and yield the same results,” Najim said. “Our community must come together to address this most challenging issue.”

ChildSafe donated 21 acres to the City of San Antonio to build a greenway trail on the creek, and the new campus also boasts a 43,000 square-foot green space, gardens, and a courtyard that will be integrated into the trauma-based treatment people receive at the center.

Currently, children and families are being seen at the organization’s far Westside San Antonio campus until Aug. 18, when the new facility officially opens and its 65 staff members relocate to the new location.

Once all community partners, including Child Protective Services, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bexar County Juvenile Probation Office occupy the space, 235 employees will be working to serve abused and neglected kids, Abernethy said.

“Having everybody in one place really helps the process of healing,” Abernethy said, noting that the original facility housed its counseling services, but families had to be referred for additional services to organizations outside of the building fairly frequently. “This allows for a continuity of care as well as additional comfort for families in an already difficult time.”

Abernethy estimates that about 8,000 families will be served at the new facility, up from just over 6,000 per year at the old facility.

“Data confirms that sexually abused children, physically abused children and neglected children often never [reach out for help]. If we continue to be successful, we will see the number of children served go up, not down,” Abernethy said.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.