By the time you finish reading this article, more than 30 cases of child abuse will have been reported to authorities nationwide. By the end of today, that number will swell past 9,000. And four of those children will die at the hands of their abuser. All in a single day.
When we take stock of these sobering statistics during April – National Child Abuse Prevention Month – it’s easy to be overwhelmed and to ask yourself, “What can I possibly do to make a difference?”
The answer is, you can do a lot. Everybody can play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect by becoming advocates for children.
For some of us, that advocacy comes in a formal role. Teachers, child care workers, health care providers and others who come into daily contact with children can be vigilant for signs of abuse and neglect. Their actions to report suspected abuse or to offer extra time and attention to fragile children can do more than make a difference. It can save lives.
CASA (court-appointed special advocate) volunteers stand up for abused and neglected children, giving them a voice in an overburdened child welfare system that is hard-pressed to meet their individual needs. A CASA volunteer’s intense advocacy can break the cycle of abuse and neglect.
Children with CASA volunteers find safe, permanent homes more quickly, are half as likely to re-enter the foster care system, and do better in school. That’s making a profound difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children across the country – 187 children right here in Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties. But there are far too many children who are left to fend for themselves.
CASA of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit is one of more than 900 CASA programs across the country committed to more than doubling our corps of volunteers by 2020 so that every child who needs a CASA volunteer has one.
CASA volunteers are people just like you – teachers, businesspeople, retirees, grandparents, housewives, mothers, fathers, students who are:
• Willing to donate 3-8 hours a month helping local abused and neglected children.
• Willing to participate in an in-depth training program.
• Strong communicators.
• Willing to commit to at least one year of service.
• Able to pass a criminal and Child Protective Services background check.
• Over age 21.
Not everyone can be a CASA volunteer, but there are many ways you can help by becoming a friend of CASA and assisting with committees or events. For more information please contact our local program.
But everyone can be an advocate by taking steps to make our community safer for our children:
• Be mindful of the signs of abuse and neglect in children, such as a lack of adult supervision, extreme passivity or aggression or poor hygiene.
• Be aware of warning signs in parents, such as showing indifference or rarely touching or looking at their child, constant verbal criticism, demands for perfection, blaming the child for family problems or other irrational behaviors.
• If you think a child is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate. Call 911.
• If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, report your suspicions confidentially to our state’s toll-free child abuse hotline at 1-800-352-6513.
Working together, we can end abuse and neglect so that every child has a chance to thrive.