April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month -- a time when caring people go the extra mile to raise awareness of the terrible toll that abuse and neglect take on young lives. This month, and throughout the year, CASA for Children encourages all individuals and organizations to play a role in making our community a better place for children and families.
When children who have been abused or neglected grow up without a strong support system, without the focused help they need to heal and without the guidance of those who know how to advocate for their every need they can feel as though their lives have been shattered. But with a trained and supportive CASA volunteer by their side -- in court, in the child welfare system and in life -- foster children get a real opportunity to recover and to find a permanent loving home.
CASA volunteers, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, are everyday people from all walks of life who are recruited and specially trained to advocate for children in foster care. Volunteers provide a consistent, reliable adult presence for abused and neglected children during a difficult time in their lives.
“Our volunteers’ first priority is to keep families together whenever safe and possible,” said Suzanne Hughes, CASA for Children’s executive director. “Foster care is only a temporary solution to the problems at hand. We need to create long-term support networks that work to care for families, make reunification a possibility and help break the cycle for the next generation.”
CASA volunteers are assigned to one child or sibling group to advocate for their best interest in court, in school and in other settings. They get to know the child and everyone involved in their life, such as parents and other family members, foster parents, therapists, caseworkers and teachers in order to develop a realistic picture of the child’s unique situation. They engage those important to the child and family to build a network of support around them so that the family has access to support and resources after CASA and child welfare involvement has ended. They make recommendations to the judge overseeing the child’s case, with the goal of ensuring that the child is safe and the family has the resources, support and healthy relationships needed to heal.
Last year, 119 CASA volunteers served 339 children in the foster care system throughout the three-county area served by CASA for Children, but there are many children still in need of a volunteer to advocate for their best interests.
Even one child victim of abuse or neglect is too many and it is critical that we continue to raise awareness of this issue in our community and nationwide. Becoming a CASA volunteer is a way to take it beyond just awareness and to do your part to help break the cycle for future generations.
“We always hope for the day when CASA, foster care and a national month dedicated to child abuse prevention are no longer needed because all children are growing up safe, secure and supported with their families,” Hughes said. “Until then, we will continue to seek more members of the community to join our growing movement so that we can provide a CASA volunteer for every child who needs one.”
If you see abuse, report it to (800) 522-3511. If a child’s life is in danger, call 911. For more information on CASA, visit www.casaok.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Brown, KXMX Staff Writer
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