Friday, March 9, 2012

I Am for the Child

Right here in our community, there are abused and neglected children who live in the shadows of our lives.  She may be the little girl in your son’s kindergarten class who had to move homes and change schools three or four times in the last year.  He may be the lonely child at the park who doesn’t join the game.

The foster care and child welfare system is full of compassionate lawyers, judges, social workers and foster families, but according to recent statistics, each year more than 748,000 children are placed in foster care nationally.  Over 720 children and teens are involved with the child welfare and court systems in Clark County alone.  This intense need can strain the system to the point where they are simply unable to protect the rights of each child.

So the little girl who has already suffered in an abusive home, enters the overburdened foster care system; she may be moved several times in the first few months. Or the two siblings who lost their mother to incarceration are split up and living on different sides of the county.

This isn’t just a problem; it is nothing short of a violation of their human rights. A child cannot defend his or her own rights, but a CASA volunteer can!

Clark County CASA trains and supports volunteers to speak out and act as advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children. They are trained to work within the child welfare court systems and are appointed by judges to individual cases. With the help of a CASA volunteer, a child is half as likely to languish in the foster care system, and much more likely to find a safe and permanent home.

In fact, CASA programs have been so effective that there are now more than 70,000 volunteers serving almost 1,000 programs in almost every court system in the United States. It is an outstanding reflection of the kind of change that’s possible when the public, private and nonprofit sectors join forces.

Today 30% of the younger children in Clark County courts do not have access to a CASA volunteer; most teens don’t have a CASA. That’s 178 children who don’t have that advocacy. We are dedicated to ensuring that every child in the foster care and child welfare system has a qualified CASA volunteer looking out for their best interests.  Especially needed are volunteers of color, as African American and Latino children are overrepresented in the child welfare and foster court system.

Every child has a right to thrive, to be treated with dignity, and to live in a safe, loving home.  Every child deserves a fighting chance.

Once grown, these former foster kids could be our future doctors, teachers and leaders. Coming through a period of vulnerability and fear, the child can then understand his potential and his rights. She will believe in herself. That is our opportunity and our challenge.

The CASA Program of ywca clark county is holding a free awareness and fundraising event with the theme “I am for the Child” to offer community members an opportunity to help in the fight against child abuse. Join us Friday, April 13th at 7:30am at the County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin Street, Vancouver, WA to learn how you can seize this opportunity and face this challenge.

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