Child Advocate Program Coping With Scourge Of Abuse

CASA of Arizona seeks to raise awareness of Child Abuse Prevention Month

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and abused children need help.

Each month of last year, an average of 2,655 calls were made to the Arizona Child Abuse Hotline.

Currently, more than 14,000 Arizona children live in out-of-home (foster) care, most of them younger than five. That includes 30 children in Payson and 72 in Globe.

Neither town has enough support services for the children in need.

Recent reports from Arizona’s Child Protective Services (CPS) indicate the CPS department is underfunded and understaffed to cover current demands according to both state and national standards.

Foster home advocates desperately try to find homes, but not many people have the resources to take in another child.

The Gila County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program plans on using the added awareness of Child Abuse Prevention Month to help.

CASA will send out information books, posters and recruitment cards around the state. They hope to educate citizens about child abuse and neglect and find new volunteers to help in a critical area of support — in the courts.

A CASA volunteer advocates for the best interest of the child — in the courtroom.

“CASA volunteers have the unique opportunity to be the one consistent person in the life of an abused or neglected child,” said CASA of Gila County Program Coordinator Barbara Munoz in a press release. “A child who has a CASA in his or her life is less likely to languish in foster care and more likely to access a safe and permanent home.”

According to the press release, CASA volunteers gather all of the information involving a child’s case and make formal recommendations to the juvenile court on the child’s behalf.

“I became a CASA in order to be a voice in court for children, who can seldom advocate for themselves,” said Leslie Tarallo, a volunteer with CASA of Gila County in a press release.

As the economy sours and people struggle to find work, children suffer. Clarence H. Carter, the director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security hopes the Child Abuse Prevention Month gets the community involved early in a child’s life, if they need help.

On his blog, he said child abuse is a community issue.

“The longer society waits to intervene in the life cycle of a disadvantaged child, the more costly it is to remediate this dynamic. We can pay now or pay later. If we compare the costs annually per child in Arizona, it costs $11,246 for an out-of-home foster care placement, $62,696 for juvenile detention and $40,480 for hospitalization. By contrast, prevention services that help keep a child in the home cost an average of $3,500. Early intervention promotes school success, reduces crime, fosters workforce productivity and reduces teenage pregnancy.”

The CASA Web site has a heartwarming story about the benefits support services, like CASA have in a child’s life:

“Dear CASA staff,

Hello. My name is Deanna, and you likely have no idea who I am. Before I can properly thank you for the work you do, it may be necessary for you to understand a little bit about who I am ...

Roughly 12 years ago, my brothers and I were detained by CPS and became wards of the state. It was a harrowing experience, to say the least. We were removed from a hellish situation, yes, but we were also removed from all that was familiar to us. Eventually, we were reunited with our mother. Things were great for about a year, and then she picked up her old drug and alcohol habits, and the string of abusive boyfriends and eviction notices and the like were sure to follow. Reunification didn’t pan out like we all thought it would, but my involvement with the system taught me a lot. I learned that the chaos that was my normalcy was not inevitable.

There was something else. There were reasons to persevere.

At 13, I ran away from home. I stayed with various neighbors, friends, and family members and eventually graduated from high school at the top of my class.

I even got to give a speech at graduation, because I was the student body president. Statistically, I never should have made it to that point.

I got a full scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. This past May, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. I double majored in sociology and African American studies, and had a minor in education policy. Now I am working toward my dream, which is for every child in America to have access to quality education and health care. Currently, I work as a statistical analyst for a health care research firm. I also work part-time at a rehabilitation center for people with drug and alcohol dependencies. In my spare time, I volunteer at a local homeless shelter, where I organize Friday night outings for the teenagers in residence there and teach a GED prep class two nights a week. Every day, I touch lives in direct and indirect ways. I know that my ability to reach out to people in pain is due to the large range of emotion I’ve had the burden and privilege of knowing.

I almost forgot to mention, next month I will be sworn in as an officer of the court after completing 16 weeks of intensive training to become a CASA volunteer. In some ways, I’m terrified of the experience. My foster mom, who I still speak to on a daily basis, sometimes asks why I don’t just leave well enough alone. I worked so hard to escape poverty and physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse, so why not just take a corporate job and forget those very real and very frightening elements of our society exist? I don’t really have an answer to her questions. But I do know that if she had taken that approach — or the neighbor who made the phone call when she heard me and my brothers screaming, or my teachers who continually offered me the praise and guidance I needed to excel in school, or my CASA who had her own career and family to focus on but still took the time to ask me what I wanted/needed and made me feel like those things were important — if any of them had not taken that approach, I would not be here today.

My CASA classes have opened my eyes to how much work you all do and have done for decades to ensure that people like me have a voice and a chance. If any of your volunteers ever get so bogged down in case files and forensic reports that it gets too hard for them to see the impact their tears, hard work, gas mileage, and time spent away from their families makes, feel free to give them my phone number.

This note has probably been much longer than it needed to be, so I will let you get back to your important work. For everything you do on a daily basis to make the voices of the innocent heard and understood, thank you.

Sincerely,

Deanna

P.S. If your office still has contact with my CASA, please let her know that she is an angel.

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