Monday, Apr 9, 2018
How We Can Help Victims of Child Abuse
By Karen Scussel and Sharon M. Lawrence
No one likes to think child abuse exists in their community. But sadly, it does in every community in America. More than 80% of the children entering the foster care system are removed from their families because their parents are charged with child neglect, often the result of one or both parent’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. As we observe Child Abuse Prevention Month, let’s recommit ourselves to ending the vicious cycle of abuse, to stand up for every child, to ensure that each one grows up to become a healthy independent adult.
In California, there are 60,550 youth, newborns to age 21, who are in the foster care system. Every day, children are removed from their parents care because of abuse or neglect and taken to emergency shelters. Many are placed into foster homes, sometimes far from their families and friends. Living in a stranger’s home is a disorienting, frightening and unsettling experience for any age child.
Children, who live through abuse and neglect, as well as the added trauma of being removed from their homes, often spend the rest of their lives dealing with that trauma, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at higher rates than returning war veterans.
One of the most effective ways to assist a child in foster care is to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer. CASAs are community volunteers who are recruited, carefully trained, and supervised by a professional nonprofit CASA organization. Of California’s 58 counties, 51 are served by a CASA program. These volunteers do heroic work, they are sworn in as officers of the court, and are assigned to work one-on-one with foster children of all ages. They become a lifeline anchor for these children—an adult who can be counted on to show up, to be at the child’s side and to speak up in court for the child’s best interests in dependency court hearings. Because CASA volunteers are court-appointed, they can thoroughly research every aspect of a child’s case, including meeting with biological parents, relatives, teachers, doctors, social workers and foster parents, thereby gaining a comprehensive perspective on what the child needs in order to thrive. Just as importantly, CASAs are friends, mentors and advocates to their foster youth, awakening potential in the children they serve.
Research shows that more foster children receive the educational, therapeutic and medical services they need when they are served by a CASA volunteer. They also live happier, healthier lives as adults than the children in foster care who haven’t had the benefit of a CASA’s support.
Unfortunately, there are far more children in California’s dependency system than the nonprofit CASA organizations are able to serve. In 2016, only 12,830 of the of 60,550 foster children in California’s dependency system were served by CASA volunteers.
All children in foster care deserve a CASA who can help them understand their situation and can advocate on their behalf. To learn about volunteer opportunities visit www.CaliforniaCASA.org.
Karen Scussel is the Executive Director of Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, one of the largest CASA organizations in California.
Sharon M. Lawrence is the CEO of the California CASA Association, representing the network of 44 CASA programs statewide serving 51 counties.