April is National Child Abuse Prevention month and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Travis County, or CASA, hopes to increase awareness to this serious, often-overlooked subject.
“It is not easy to talk about,” said Melia Greber, Volunteer Coordinator at CASA, “and we need to take steps to change it.”
Volunteers with CASA of Travis County have been speaking up for children in child protective services (CPS) cases for 25 years. Close to 80% of the children involved in CPS cases are appointed a CASA volunteer, at the judge’s discretion. The ultimate goal is to have these children end up in safe, permanent, and loving homes.
Last year, CASA served 1,106 children and the number may increase this year because there tends to be a rise in the number of child abuse cases reported during tough economic times.
Currently, CASA has about a hundred cases more than it does volunteers and is having to rely on staff to take on advocate roles, which is not an ideal situation. “The more volunteers we have, the more cases we can cover,” said Callie Langford, Events Manager.
CASA has a big need right now for volunteer advocates, particularly males and people that are bilingual. While the children appointed to CASA tend to be equally distributed between females and males, only about twenty percent of the volunteers are male. About forty percent of the children CASA advocates for are Hispanic.
Volunteers do not need any special background and will get all the training they need at CASA University. CASA volunteer court advocates spend time with the child to learn what is in their best interest by talking to everyone involved in the child’s life to get the big picture.
Quana Green has been a volunteer with CASA for about six months. After hearing about CASA’s annual 5K run on the radio, she registered online to be a volunteer with CASA and was contacted by Greber within the hour.
The 30-hour training volunteer advocates must go through is extremely flexible and, according to Green, it goes by very fast and is very enjoyable because you get to spend time with a like-minded community of volunteers.
She thought she would be doing a lot of good in the child’s life and, as it turns out, she is learning a lot about herself in the process.
“Bombarding the community with awareness is so needed,” said Green. She has seen the need to help abused and neglected children firsthand, especially in the Black and Hispanic communities.
For people who do not have a lot of time, or who are not ready to take the step to be a volunteer court advocate, there are other ways to help out with CASA. There is a group called Community for CASA, which is an auxiliary volunteer support group, as well as event committees and volunteer internships.
There are also several upcoming events to participate in, including the CASA Kid’s Golf Classic, happening on May 3 at the Hills Country Club.
Starting this month, CASA will be opening registration for their 5K run at the Domain, an annual event that happens in September to raise awareness for abused and neglected children and to thank their “superhero” volunteers. This year CASA is partnering with The Superhero Foundation and including a superhero costume contest.
For more information about CASA of Travis County, visit their website at www.casatravis.org.By Vicky Garza