Houston area sees a surge in child deaths from abuse and neglect

The Houston area is seeing an increase in child abuse cases in Houston since last year, according to reports

HOUSTON – April marks the beginning of Child Abuse Prevention Month. And right now, there are more than 6,000 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in the Houston area.

Here’s a breakdown of one of the most well-known child abuse cases that happened in our area -- that of Maliyah Bass.

Community on high alert

A missing 2-year-old, a community on high alert and a heartbroken family.

“I was at work when I got the call about Maliyah,” recalls Angel Harris, of the day she learned Maliyah was reported missing from the playground of her family’s apartment on Aug. 22, 2020.

“My first thought was, ‘How can you be so, so, stupid? So irresponsible? You know better. You know she’s not to go outside,’” Harris asked her stepson Travion Thompson when he called to tell her of Maliyah’s disappearance.

Harris quickly made it to the scene to search for the missing girl.

“I walked down the bayou to see if I saw any evidence. (Anything that) wasn’t supposed to be down there, under my own investigation because I wanted to know what happened to my baby,” Harris said.

Sweet Maliyah

Harris calls Maliyah her “heart.” The toddler with the infectious laugh and smile could always brighten Harris’ day.

The two had met when Harris’ step-son began dating the toddler’s mom,

“He said, ‘Mama, I met this girl.”

The “girl” he met was 20-year-old Sahara Ervin, Maliyah’s mother.

Not long afterward, Harris met Maliyah.

“I fell in love because I love kids. Maliyah had that, that personality. She was sweet. She always loved to laugh. She loves to play. You know, she was a caring baby.”

According to authorities, the same people entrusted to care for Maliyah actually did her harm.

What started out as a search for a missing child quickly turned into a homicide investigation just one week later when Maliyah’s body was found in Brays Bayou.

According to autopsy reports, Maliyah had a broken left forearm and extensive superficial blunt force trauma in the form of “looped pattern bruising” all over her body. The suspected item used in beating her, an extension cord-like object or a hanger-like object.

A startling uptick in deaths

Maliyah is not the only minor who died in 2020.

According to a new report from the Department of Family and Protective Services on child maltreatment fatalities and near fatalities, more children are dying from neglect and abuse, at least in terms of cases the state investigated.

“2020 has been a very difficult year for children and families across Texas,” said Kathryn Sibley of DFPS.

The number of deaths in 2020 increased 7% from 772 to 826. A total of 54 more children from 2019.

The causes of death range from physical abuse (blunt force trauma and intentional homicide), vehicle-related, unsafe sleep, neglectful supervision, drowning, medical neglect, physical neglect, suicide, premature birth due to drug use, and abandonment at birth.

Investigating abuse, neglect reports in Texas

According to Sibley, in the state of Texas, citizens are “all mandatory reporters.”

“Anytime you are concerned about a child who might be suffering from abuse or neglect, you should contact our statewide intake at 1-800-252-5400. You can also make an online report at any time,” Sibley said.

Once the report is made, the following steps are followed by the agency:

  • The report is made to statewide intake
  • The report is screened to review whether or not it meets the requirement to investigate
  • Intake is sent over to the investigations division or child protective investigations to review and make contact
  • For any of those intakes that are going on to investigations will require DFPS to respond within 24 to 72 hours and someone will be coming out to assess the safety of that child

“Sometimes when someone contacts us they may have just concerns where a family member is really trying to get resources,” Sibley said.

In those instances, the agency will connect them with the proper resources.

Suspect something? Say something!

In the state of Texas, reports can be made directly to the abuse hotline at (800) 252-5400 or online at https://www.txabusehotline.org/Login/Default.aspx .

Harris said she never suspected Maliyah was being abused. If she had, the little girl’s life would have had a much different outcome.

“I would have gone over there and made them give her to me,” Harris said.