CASA and the Fight against Child Abuse and Neglect
The growing rates of child abuse and neglect in Colorado Springs is alarming. A few years ago, more than 12,500 calls were made to the police department by worried community members concerning the wellbeing of children. As Abbie Burke notes, out of those 12,500 calls made, one thousand of them resulted in authorities discovering authentic cases of child abuse or neglect taking place. Cases of child maltreatment get turned over to the court system after the police have done an investigation. Tragically, the voices of abused children often get lost and forgotten within the process of a court case very easily.
The nonprofit organization CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) allows children who have been victims of abuse to have a voice in the court system through an advocate. The local Pikes Peak Region chapter of CASA was founded in 1989, after studies by the Junior League of Colorado Springs found that the children in El Paso and Teller County did not have anyone to advocate for them. Within the last 25 years of operation, CASA of the Pikes Peak Region has changed the lives of over 10,000 children. The organization defines its mission in clear terms: “CASA of the Pikes Peak Region provides a volunteer’s voice in court for children who are victims of abuse, neglect or domestic conflict and promotes community awareness of these issues to ensure safe and permanent homes.”
More specifically, CASA’s main goals are to reduce child abuse and neglect in Colorado Springs while striving to provide safe and permanent homes for children who need them. CASA’s ability to reach these goals involves educating the community about the contributing factors of child maltreatment, as well as letting the people in the community know what they can do to help end the vicious abuse cycle. CASA always strives to improve its ability to assist more children throughout the region, but the organization proves highly functional due to its volunteers and the number of successful cases they have worked.
The impressive performance of CASA volunteers is one of the main reasons for the organization’s efficiency. CASA uses extensive training programs to coach carefully chosen volunteers; it is their goal that the volunteers know anything and everything about child maltreatment. The training gives the advocates the knowledge to know the ins and outs of child development, the court systems, available community resources, and the roles the Department of Human Services can play. Each case takes a great amount of time and energy, so volunteers work on only one case at a time. Focusing on one case allows advocates to provide safety and permanency for the child they advocate for with little to no distraction.
Volunteers must follow a wide variety of tasks in order to truly assist the children they work with. As the CASA website explains, advocacy roles include “providing information on court procedures, community resources and support . . . monitor the court-ordered treatment plan to assure positive progress is being made and assesses if the children can be returned home.” Volunteers write reports for the court, speak out for the children during court, and make recommendations for the child’s best interest through “factual, unbiased information to the court about the child’s and family’s situation and progress.” The substantial amount of work that the volunteers take on shows their commitment and caring of the children for whom they advocate. Think of all the time and energy the volunteers put forth to make a difference in each child’s life. This is what makes CASA a cornerstone of the Pikes Peak Region.
The sheer volume of CASA’s workload defines its seriousness. The thousands of cases volunteers have successfully worked on over the past 25 years shows how much of a difference we can make in helping the most vulnerable members of society. Stories of battered, abused, neglected, and suffering children touch the hearts of caring people who choose to directly or indirectly involve themselves in the cases. Children should never have to go through such terrible horrors. Their stories bring tears to the eyes of people in court rooms, those who see victimized children on the evening news, or those who read about the children’s misfortunes in local newspapers.
Even more touching are the accounts of triumphs children have managed after getting placed into permanent homes. The Gazette’s Linda Navarro describes a case that underscores CASA’s significance to the community in especially vivid terms. A nine-year-old girl named Tiffany, her brother, and her sister were taken from their home after a tragic accident. Their removal was due to the discovery of their six-month-old sister Ariel, who was found lifeless between her crib and the wall as her parents partied elsewhere in their home. As the oldest child, Tiffany was forced into the role of acting mother to her younger siblings. The neglect from her parents put pressures on her that no child should feel. The responsibility she felt for the death of her youngest sister caused Tiffany to go as far as to plan the funeral and headstone of young Ariel.
The removal of the young children from their home resulted in them gaining a guardian who would see them to a better home. Teresa Krainz became that guardian when she was appointed as an advocate for the children by the courts. Due to her training as a CASA volunteer, Teresa understood exactly what she needed to do to help provide safety for Tiffany and her younger siblings. The journey Teresa and the children faced was not an easy one. Tiffany’s parents tried to regain custody of the children just when they were getting used to their new home. Teresa would not allow that, and she advocated to the court that the children should be allowed adoption by the family they had been placed into safety with. In essence, Teresa mediated through years of difficulty for the children while advocating for their new adoptive parents. The influence she provided enabled the children to become normal and successful in their lives.
Tiffany spoke about her difficult journey at the CASA Light of Hope breakfast. Most of the audience broke into tears as she detailed her hardships, but she ended her story on a high note when she spoke of her dreams coming true. Tiffany had gotten married and acquired her degree in nursing, and she now works as a labor and delivery nurse while studying to get her master’s degree. Her story is just one of many victories facilitated by CASA advocates.
CASA’s leaders acknowledge that the organization is not without flaws. They know they still have a plenty of work to do. For instance, only half of the abused children in the Pikes Peak Region eligible for a CASA advocate actually get one. In an interview with The Gazette’s Jakob Rodgers, Executive Director Trudy Strewler Hodges states, “It boils down to a matter of necessity.” In short, the organization does not have enough resources or volunteers for every child to be appointed an advocate. Hodges does mention that she has a plan that will lessen the gap and allow more advocates for children by 2020, and the community looks forward to seeing CASA become more effective in enabling more children to have access to an advocate.
Clearly, CASA is doing its part in the effort to help abused children in the Pikes Peak Region. Accordingly, the community must play a greater role in helping CASA advocate for a broader number of children. If more people in the community take action and support this essential organization, children’s voices will not be lost in the court systems. More children will be placed into safe homes, and awareness of child abuse will spread. Community members have more than just the option of volunteering their time to CASA. People who are unable to commit themselves to hours of work as a volunteer can make donations to CASA through their website in order to help fund the organization and ensure quality training for the volunteers. Taking a stand helps the children who can’t help themselves. Just click on the following link to learn more: http://www.casappr.org/
Linsey Arpad is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Nursing. She plans to travel all around the world one day and immerse herself in as many cultures as possible while practicing nursing in other countries.