Have you ever read a horrific story of child abuse and wondered what to do? Instead of passive despair, let the tragic incident serve as a galvanizing call to action for us all to commit to ending abuse and securing the safety and future of every child in Coconino County. We can make a difference when we all become advocates for children.
For some of us, advocacy comes in a formal role. Teachers, child care workers, health care providers and others who come in daily contact with children can be vigilant for signs of abuse and neglect. Their actions to report suspected abuse or to offer extra time and attention to vulnerable children can do more than make a difference, they can save lives.
Others are CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteers who are professionally trained to advocate for children in foster care. They are everyday members of the community who are appointed by judges to advocate for abused or neglected children in court. Their mission is to help the children move out of foster care and into a safe home environment as quickly as possible. They put their passion for the well-being of children into action by making sure kids don’t get lost in the overburdened system.
The CASA volunteers are closely screened and highly trained. They are also given background checks and interviewed to ensure the highest level of professionalism. According to the National CASA Association’s 2017 Annual Report (annualreport2017casaforchildren.org/#leadership-letter), a child who has been appointed a CASA volunteer spends less time in foster care and has a greater chance at finding a safe and permanent home. The child is also much less likely to return to foster care. The report shares that nationally, in 2017, volunteers helped to close more than 100,000 cases providing permanency for vulnerable children.
Advocates get to know one child or sibling group and speak to others involved in the children’s lives, including family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers and social workers. Their recommendations, the information they gather and reports they prepare help judges overseeing dependency cases to make informed decisions on a child’s best interest. The CASA volunteers remain involved with the children until their court case is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.
For many abused children, their CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence in their lives. A CASA volunteer’s intense advocacy for the best interests of the child can break the cycle of abuse and neglect. It not only changes the course of one child’s life, it can make an impact for generations.
While not everyone chooses to be a CASA volunteer (although CASA of Coconino County certainly welcomes more caring adults into the volunteer ranks), everyone can be an advocate. Here are a few steps you can take to make our community safer for our children.
Be mindful of the signs of abuse and neglect in children, many of which appear before an obvious physical mark: lack of adult supervision, extreme passivity or aggression, poor hygiene or watchfulness, as if waiting for something bad to happen.
Also, be aware of warning signs in parents: showing indifference for rarely touching or looking at their child, constant verbal criticism, demands for perfection, blaming the child for family problems or other irrational behaviors.
If you think a child is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate, call 911.
If you think a child is being abused or neglected, report your suspicions confidentially to the Arizona’s Department of Child Services toll-free child abuse hotline at 800-767-2445.
Take new or stressed-out parents under your wing. Offer to babysit, run an errand or share your own challenges and insights about being a parent.
The National CASA Association’s article titled Evidence of Effectiveness (casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5332511/k.7D2A/Evidence_of_Effectiveness.htm) confirms that advocacy for children not only will help a child, it will improve our community for everyone who lives here. Children who are abused and get the support they need to heal from a CASA volunteer are less likely to be bounced from home to home and more likely to do better in school. These children score better on nine protective factors, including controlling against deviant behavior, positive attitude toward the future and ability to work with others.
There’s a huge need for more CASA advocates in Coconino County. Pursuant to CASA of Arizona, applicants must be 21 or older, complete a background check and 30 hours of free pre-service training, and have about 10 to 15 hours per month to dedicate to their case. Apply online, as the next CASA of Coconino County Volunteer Academy is Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. For more information, visit CASAofCoconinoCounty.org or call Amber Martin at 928-226-5420. FBN
By Felicia Bicknell
Felicia Bicknell is the CASA recruitment and training coordinator for Coconino County Juvenile Court. She can be reached at 928-226-5433.