We all have a role to play in ending child abuse and neglect
By Dan Rubinstein
By the time you finish reading this article, more than 30 cases of child abuse will have been reported to authorities nationwide. By the end of today, that number will swell past 9,000. And four of those children will die at the hands of their abuser. All in a single day.
When we take stock of these sobering statistics during April — National Child Abuse Prevention Month — it’s easy to be overwhelmed and to ask yourself, “What can I possibly do to make a difference?”
The answer is, you can do a lot. Everybody can play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect by becoming advocates for children.
For some of us, that advocacy comes in a formal role. Teachers, child care workers, health care providers and others who come into daily contact with children can be vigilant in looking for signs of abuse and neglect. Their actions to report suspected abuse or to offer extra time and attention to fragile children can do more than make a difference. It can save lives. It can build that trusting relationship that promotes children disclosing important information that can help us help them.
For others, being involved in one of our two local programs which provide invaluable advocacy services to our children is an excellent way to contribute to our children’s well-being. Becoming a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) volunteer can provide an excellent way to stand up for abused and neglected children by giving them a voice in court. With an overburdened child welfare system with competing rights, roles, responsibilities and complex legal concepts, the use of CASA volunteer can break the cycle of abuse and neglect. Children with CASA volunteers find safe, permanent homes more quickly, are half as likely to re-enter the foster care system, and do better in school.
For those who want to help in other ways, financially supporting the Western Slope Center for Children is a great way to assure that children who were physically and sexually abused are able to obtain mental health services and be interviewed in an environment where they feel safe. There are 493 abused and neglected kids in the system here in Mesa County right now. Unfortunately, more than half of that number remain on a waiting list to get a CASA volunteer, someone who will be their voice in court.
Both of these programs are well-designed, supported and utilized by this community, but both need your involvement. CASA of Mesa County is one of more than 900 CASA programs across the country committed to more than doubling our corps of volunteers by 2020 so that every child who needs a CASA volunteer has one. It can be reached for information to volunteer at 970-242-4191 or http://www.casamc.org.
The WSCC is part of a nationwide effort to reduce the trauma of abuse so that children are not re-victimized by the system designed to protect them. The WSCC also prepares abused children to participate in the prosecution of their offenders. It can be reached at 970-245-3788 or online at http://www.wscchildren.org.
Dan Rubinstein is the Chief Deputy District Attorney-Crime Against Children Unit and a CASA board member. He also serves on the advisory council for the WSCC.