April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month
By Melanie Davis
Director, Appalachian CASA
By the time you finish reading this story, 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 — recognized as National Child Abuse Prevention Month — it’s easy to be overwhelmed and ask yourself, “What can I possibly do to make a difference?”
Actually, you can do a lot. One way to play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect is to become an advocate for children.
For some of us, 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. Reporting suspected abuse or to offer extra time and attention to fragile children can do more than make a difference. It can also save lives.
Providing a voice
Volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocates (or “CASAs”) 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.
CASAs are making a real difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children across the country, including 185 children right here in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit of Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens counties.
A child may have multiple social workers, attorneys, therapists and foster placements throughout the life of the case, but only one CASA volunteer who is expected to be a constant for that child in a time of chaos. This can make all the difference for the child’s future.
A child with a CASA volunteer spends 20 percent less time in foster care, on average, compared to a child without one. Studies show children with a CASA volunteer receive more services that are critical to their well-being and are four times more likely to find a permanent home.
How to get involved
Appalachian CASA is part of a network of almost 1,000 CASA programs across the country. At the heart of the movement are almost 87,000 highly trained volunteers who advocate for the best interests of more than 280,000 of America’s abused or neglected children.
CASAs are people just like you – teachers, businesspeople, healthcare professionals, stay-at-home parents, empty-nesters, retirees and grandparents.
Volunteers should be: at least 21 years of age, willing to participate in an in-depth training program, able to be a strong communicator, willing to commit to at least a year of service and able to pass a criminal and child protective services background check.
Not everyone can be a CASA volunteer, but everyone can be an advocate. Here are some steps you can take to make our community safer for our children:
﹣ Keep our state’s toll-free child abuse hotline number close at hand, 1-855-GA-CHILD.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you can report your suspicions confidentially.
﹣ Donate or volunteer for a social service agency that supports children, such as the Appalachian Children’s Center, Kids Cottage or the Boys and Girls Club.
﹣ Educate yourself and others about the devastating toll that abuse and neglect take on children and our society as a whole.
Your advocacy for children will not only help prevent child abuse, it will improve our community for everyone who lives here. Children who are abused and do not get the support they need to heal are more likely than other kids to drop out of school, end up homeless, turn to crime or rely on social welfare programs as adults.
When we work together to protect vulnerable children, it saves lives while also saving tax dollars.
We all have a role to play. What will yours be?