Tuesday, August 4, 2020

New School Year Can Mean More in Child Abuse, Neglect Reports

Backpacks, pencils and notebooks are filling up the aisles in stores all over Oklahoma, reminding us that a new school year could be just around the corner. The beginning of the school year can be an exciting time for most children, but it can also lead to more reports of child abuse and neglect as faculty, staff and other parents notice signs of maltreatment children may have endured during their time away.

“When kids are out of school, signs of abuse or neglect can sometimes go unnoticed due to fewer interactions with teachers and other adults outside their family,” said Suzanne Hughes, executive director of CASA for Children. “Teachers and school officials are required by law to report any signs of abuse, so it is quite common for there to be a rise in reports when school starts again. With the amount of time the kids have been out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers could be even higher this year.”

The increase in DHS reports during the new school year frequently leads to more children entering the overburdened child welfare system, creating an urgent need for more CASA volunteers to speak up for the best interests of these children.

Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers are everyday members of the community that are specially trained and appointed by judges to advocate for children in foster care. Volunteers are assigned to serve one child or sibling group and tasked with evaluating their unique situation by getting to know them and speaking to any and all relevant contacts in their lives -- accurately assessing the child’s needs and best interests when it comes to their foster placement, school and other settings.

“In addition to the abuse or neglect they’ve already suffered, it is traumatizing for children to be placed in foster care, because they are taken away from their homes, family, friends and everything they have ever known due to no fault of their own,” Hughes said. “Our committed volunteers at CASA for Children stand by a child’s side during this difficult time. They work hard to ensure the child’s voice is heard and protect their overall best interests.”

CASA volunteers make an effort to form a relationship with these children individually: getting to know them and gathering important information about their unique physical, emotional and educational needs. By speaking up for children’s best interests and acting as the eyes and ears of the court, CASA volunteers help ensure that the children they serve are safe, their needs are addressed and they have the support and resources they need to heal and thrive.

In 2019, CASA volunteers served 336 children throughout Muskogee, Sequoyah and Wagoner counties, but there are still many children without a CASA volunteer to advocate for their needs -- a number that is likely to grow as the school year begins.

“CASA has an urgent need for more advocates that can make a difference in the lives of these children, especially now that the back-to-school season has begun,” Hughes said. “Become a CASA volunteer to ensure that all children get the support they deserve both in school and beyond -- giving them a better chance at a brighter future.”

CASA staff and volunteers are committed to continuing to advocate for children and families through the current pandemic and are hopeful others will consider joining the CASA movement.

The volunteer recruitment, screening and training process have all moved online in order to continue to expand the CASA volunteer roster. Online classes are forming now for Muskogee, Wagoner and Sequoyah counties to begin Aug. 17. 

For more information, visit www.casaok.org or contact Jenny Crosby at (918) 686-8199 or via email at jenny@casaok.org. 

KXMX News Staff

For more news stories stay tuned to The MIX 105.1 or visit www.kxmx.com


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