June 19, 2021
Lawrence, US 91 F
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Erick Vaughn: Volunteer Month & Child Abuse Prevention Month the perfect time for CASA (Column)

Note: The Lawrence Times is offering some space for area organizations and organizers to provide updates and attempt to reach other folks who might share their mission. This post is contributed content (i.e., not produced by the Times staff). See more in our Community Voices section, or see how to submit your own piece.

It is always a good time to recognize and thank those who give their time, skills, and compassion to serve others. April is a notable time for a child-serving program like Douglas County CASA, Inc. (Court Appointed Special Advocates) as it is both National Volunteer Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

This month highlights the ongoing need for volunteer advocates who can provide critical services and support for children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

Statewide, some 6,879 children must live in foster care until safe, permanent homes can be found for them. Sadly, we suspect that this figure underrepresents that actual number of children in need of care, as abuse/neglect has been potentially underreported during the COVID-19 crisis.

At any given time, there are about 160 children in need of care here in Douglas County and CASA is currently able to serve 104 of those children. We need more safe and nurturing adults to be long-term CASA volunteers for the 76 children on our waiting list (which includes cases from previous years). Some may view volunteering as a luxury they cannot afford, but many adults can carve out a few hours a week to volunteer and make a difference.

CASA volunteers get to know children involved in the child welfare system, their circumstances, and the adults involved in their lives. CASA volunteers write and submit reports directly to the court that include evidence-based recommendations to support judges, case managers, therapists, teachers, and attorneys in pursuit of a child’s best interest. The goal is to reunite children with their families whenever possible or support a promising adoption when necessary.

CASA volunteers advocate to help each child secure a safe, nurturing, and permanent home in which they can thrive. To reach that goal, volunteers work with other professionals to avoid moving the child between multiple foster homes or placements, re- traumatization, disruption of nurturing bonds and social connections, and disruption of education.

Volunteering has been and will continue to be difficult work, and the past year has certainly increased the difficulty as public health requires social distancing. We are grateful for the dedication that our volunteers have to their children and the extra work and time they took to intentionally replace monthly face-to-face visits with weekly connections via phone, video call, text and email messages.

Thanks to the hard work and foresight of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, our volunteers got in on phase 1 of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. They are now more protected and better able to visit children and others face-to-face and keep everyone safe. We are very grateful for this.

Even though volunteering can be difficult, the stakes for these vulnerable children are even higher. Children in the child welfare system are more likely to live in congregate care settings like group homes and psychiatric residential treatment facilities. They are also more likely to have physical, social and educational developmental delays while also being at a higher risk for further abuse and neglect, substance use, mental health issues and continued trauma.

That is where CASA volunteers can make a difference. They are caring, consistent adults who not only elevate a child’s best interest but also support resilience and self-advocacy to change a child’s story — overcome family trauma and pain with hope and resiliency. This can only happen when strong, publicly funded and privately supplemented services, state and nonprofit staff, and dedicated volunteers collaborate with purpose and care.

Join us, especially this month, in acknowledging the service of volunteers — CASA volunteers as well as others — who are devoted to preventing child abuse and neglect. Then take the time to think about your own experiences and skills and consider joining this cause.

We would value the chance to talk to you about how you can help give a child who has suffered abuse and neglect a future of possibilities. Contact us at 785-832-5172, casa@dccasaks.org, or through our website at dccasa.org.

Erick Vaughn is the executive director of Douglas County CASA.

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