I was speaking with a friend recently about my previous work with children who had been abused and/or neglected by their caretakers. She explained how she really didn’t understand because it was a “whole different world” than what she was exposed to as a child or an adult. Many of us go through life naïve about the happenings in our country or even our own neighborhood. We know differently, but tell ourselves that everyone else in the world is chugging right along like we are…it makes it easier for us to do nothing.
The children I worked with were physically and sexually abused, nutritionally and environmentally neglected, drug-exposed, and often times just in the middle of a horrible custody dispute that had unfounded accusations flying. I worked both in the role of child protective service worker removing children from their homes and as a CASA representative encouraging the courts to speed up permanency for the children. Being involved to this capacity revealed to me the major instability in the homes of children all around this country.
In recognition of April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I want to encourage you also to see what you can do to create awareness for child abuse in our towns and in our country. The National CASA website states that, “Each year, approximately 780,000 children in the US are caught up in the court and child welfare maze because they are unable to live safely at home.” Seven hundred-eighty THOUSAND children are unable to live safely at home! (And imagine all the unreported incidents of child abuse and neglect.)
So, what happens once these children are in the court system? Some of them are lucky enough to have grandparents or aunts and uncles or even the other mom or dad to take custody while their custodial parent works out their “issues.” Along with that luck comes the family bickering and the constant fighting between family members. For those not so lucky, they get placed in the foster care system and possibly even moved from home to home. They spend their time being in the custody of the state. Either way, the children’s next steps in life depend on what happens at the next court date, which may not occur for 30 or 90 or even 180 days! Some children stay in the foster care system for years with no stability and no permanency.
That’s where CASA volunteers can make a difference. A Court Appointed Special Advocate meets with the child and becomes the voice for that child in court. By interviewing family members, teachers, counselors, and any other pertinent people in that child’s life, the CASA volunteer makes recommendations to the Juvenile Court Judge as to what would be in the best interest of the child. The CASA volunteer is able to think outside the box of the social welfare system and outside the box of legalese. They are able to go beyond an occupation and get personal with a child. CASA volunteers take the time to go beyond what is in front of them and find suitable placements that no one else knew were there. CASA volunteers encourage for reunification or adoption to get the child out of the system and into permanent homes.
Are you ready to go beyond for a child? Good news, you can! CASA Volunteers come from all walks of life. CASA volunteers are anyone willing to take the time to speak up and go beyond for a child.
You can receive all the training you need at your local CASA program.
Visit the National CASA website to find a program near you.
The local CASA program for Hawkins and Sullivan Counties can be found HERE.