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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Along with images of mistletoe, holly and non-stop cheer, comes a sober warning from local child advocates: the holidays can be harsh—especially for children in already fragile households.

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“Parenting is difficult,” admits Jessica Trudeau, Executive Director of Family Compass, a local non-profit. “I try to imagine maintaining my composure when my bank account is negative, there’s no food in the house, and my partner is abusing me. When you’re stressed, it’s much easier to snap in that moment.”

But, rather than waiting for stressed out parents to ‘snap’, Family Compass works proactively in at risk neighborhoods to help parents learn better coping skills — parents like mother of three, Claudia Garcia. It’s not that she was a bad Mom. But… “I’m trying to do better,” says Garcia. So she enrolled in an 8-week parenting class and eventually led a parent support group. She says the group helps relieve the isolation of being at home alone with small children and taking care of everyone’s needs—except your own.
Family Compass believes that it is better to prevent child abuse—than attempt to repair it.

“I would love to go back and never have experienced abuse,” says Trudeau. “I would love to know what a real child hood is like.” As you might have now guessed, for the non-profit’s executive director, the monumental task of protecting children is not only professional. It is very personal.

She’s raising an alarm now because far from Madison Avenue’s carefully crafted messages, the reality is that reports of abuse rise during the holidays.

According to Child Protective Services, in December of last year, there were 56,000 reports of abuse in Texas. In January, that figure jumped to 65,000 reports—a 16 percent increase in just one month.

“We anticipate that it was abuse that occurred during the holidays; but, was reported a week or two later,” says Trudeau, “after they go back to school.”

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Although abuse crosses the socio-economic spectrum, experts say poverty, homelessness, limited education and domestic violence put children at increased risk.

“But, they’re not bad families,” insists Trudeau, “ they’re just like the rest of us: families that are struggling with one thing or another. “They need resources… they need people to believe in them.”

To learn more about spotting and reporting suspected abuse click here for the Family Compass website.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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