Numbers of abused, neglected children climb

CASA director urges more awareness of child abuse

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Apr. 13, 2007 - It looks like Lake Country CASA is headed for another record year. And that's not good.

File Photo

Fundraisers like the annual CASA Cookie Walk help raise money for CASA, but volunteers are the big need for the organization.

Last year, Lake Country Court Appointed Special Advocates represented 207 abused and neglected children who were removed from their homes — 81 children each in Hopkins and Titus counties, 25 in Franklin County and 20 in Rains County. In 2005, CASA served 193 children, up from 158 children in 2004.

2007 could very well be another record year if current trends of children entering the system continue, Lake Country CASA Executive Director Gina Law noted.

"Since I’ve been doing this, the numbers have continued to rise, a lot due to drug use,” Law noted. "Drugs endanger children when parents use them in front of their children. There’s no way of knowing the long-term effects on the children, which impact our entire community."

Child abuse prevention is a community responsibility, said Law, and everyone needs to be aware of it and help work toward a solution.

"There is a way for everyone to be utilized. Everyone can make a difference in the life of a child,” she said.

April has been designated as Child Abuse Awareness Month in an effort to make the public aware of the problem and avenues in which they can help.

Law said the keys to combating child abuse are education, awareness, volunteerism and donations. People can donate their time as CASA volunteers, or give money for training of volunteers and to pay for extras for children assisted by CASA.

�We have a need for volunteers,� Law said. "They are dedicated individuals whose time is spent helping these children. They receive 12 hours of in service training each year and must pass a background check. Each year more volunteers are needed to help keep pace with the number of children entering the system."

CASA volunteers work alongside attorneys and social workers as appointed officers of the court. Their three main responsibilities are to serve as fact finders for the judge by thoroughly investigating the background of each case and submitting recommendations to the judge; to speak for the child in the courtroom, representing the child's best interest; and to continue to monitor and work the case until it is concluded.

�They talk to teachers, neighbors and the child, to find out as much as they can about the child and his or her situations, and how to best help the child. They also review records and interview the parents.

CASA's job, however, does not end there — it's about seeing that the children have the best there is to offer in their current circumstances.

Not everyone is able to dedicate the time needed to be a CASA volunteer, Law said, band many support the effort through donations and awareness.

"We are so thankful for our contributors who give donations through fundraisers such as the annual Cookie Walk [and United Way], or give in-kind donations such as office space," she said. "So many organizations, individuals and business contribute. They are volunteers also>'

Another example is the annual Sulphur Springs Ranch Rodeo, sponsored by Texas Heritage Association during Child Abuse Awareness Month, not only as an educational tool but also to raise funds for CASA. This year’s Ranch Rodeo begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center Arena. Tickets may be obtained for $8 at the door or for $7 in advance at the Civic Center Box Office, Circle E Western Store in Sulphur Springs or Potts Feed Store in Emory. Children 6 and under will be admitted for free, as will sheriffs and deputies.

Others help by spreading awareness of the the problem, such as the Blue Ribbon Campaign, in which people sport blue ribbons either on their clothes or cars as an awareness tool.

Bonnie Finney of Virginia started the program when she tied a blue ribbon to the antenna of her van as a memorial to her grandson, who died as a result of injuries inflicted by his parents, as well as to "alert her community to the tragedy of child abuse."

"The blue ribbon serves as a constant reminder to fight for protection of our children," the grandmother was quoted as saying. "Please wear a blue ribbon. Put one on your car. Give on to your friends. Tell them what it means. You may save a child's life."

Grassroots organizations around the country have picked up on the idea, which is being spread by Prevent Child Abuse Texas.

Law said blue ribbons will be available during the Cowboy Trade Show being held in conjunction with the Ranch Rodeo. The trade show begins at 10 a.m. in the Civic Center Exhibit Hall.

Finally, Law asks local residents to be alert to any activity which indicates child abuse may be occurring, and to report it.

�Please, if you suspect child abuse, report it. Just call 1-800-252-5400. It could save a child�s life,� Law urges.

Anyone interested in becoming a CASA volunteer or needing more information about donating, child abuse awareness or CASA can call Lake Country CASA at 903-885-1173.

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