A defenseless child, abused, neglected, or both. No one wants to think, hear or talk about it. Child protection, on the other hand, is something everyone gets behind. Wilson County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) has been getting behind child protection for more than 25 years now and plans on serving the children of Wilson County for at least 25 years more.
Wilson County CASA is a part of a nationwide organization of volunteers who speak for the safety and well-being of abused and neglected children. Like it or not, there is child abuse right here where we live.
Last year, the Department of Children’s Services investigated 914 cases of child abuse in Wilson County and that number is an increase of over 20 percent from the year before.
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and it is important that our community does everything possible to look out for the welfare of children. 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.
_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. There are a lot of community programs available to teach adults to be better parents.
_If you think a child is being abused or neglected, report your suspicions confidentially to the toll-fee abuse hotline at 1-877-237-0004.
_Volunteer your time and/or donate to community programs that support children and families.
Wilson County CASA knows, first hand, there are wonderful people in our community willing to step in and make profound differences in the lives of children: Court Appointed Special Advocates.
“These are people who want to leave the world a better place,” Amy Harris, Program Director, said. “This is not work that is frightening or depressing. This work is about healing the pain in those around us, not just the children, but the parents also, probably victims of abuse themselves years ago. It is uplifting and makes all of us better people in the process. I am lucky to work with a group of volunteers who are truly the most wonderful, caring and insightful people I have ever known. Their devotion inspires me and the positive outcomes they produce are kind of like watching little miracles happen every day.”
These appointed volunteers advocate for the best interest of children involved in court proceedings to ensure they have a safe and permanent home. Individual advocates are stability in a child’s life and represent a child for the duration of a case until the child’s case is closed, either by returning to the family, placement with a relative, or adoption. Volunteers are trained to look at all facts of a case and make a report to the Court as to the best interests of the child.
On any given day, there are 130 children in foster care in Wilson County. Hundreds more have been removed from their home and placed in a safer environment with a relative. Research shows children with a CASA volunteer are much less likely to languish in long-term foster care. By being independent advocates, volunteers can make all the difference in these children's lives. Last year CASA volunteers provided court advocacy for 296 children in Wilson County, a 12 percent increase over the previous year.
“We really can’t put a true measure on the impact our volunteers have on families,” said Lauren Smith, Volunteer Coordinator and former CASA volunteer said. “Families are changed for the better and that positive change not only affects that child, but probably that child’s child someday. We are all about breaking cycles and breaking a destructive cycle can change the world for generations to come.”
Wilson County CASA is staffed by four individuals who provide guidance and direction to 64 volunteers, but more are needed.
“We are currently providing a volunteer advocate to about 60 percent of the children who need one,” said Laura Swanson, executive director. “Any child who goes through adversity like our kids do deserves the best support and advocacy available. The hardest part of our work is worrying about the children who we can’t serve because we don’t have enough volunteers.”
Volunteers come to CASA from all walks of life and choose to give back for many reasons. No matter where they come from, they have one commonality. They are willing to make a positive difference.
“After being involved in several cases, I found that you experience all kinds of mixed emotions and can’t let them get the best of you. It’s easy to handle when you see how much you can do for the children and how much they do need the kind of help that we [CASA volunteers] give them,” John Gorman, CASA volunteer, said.
CASA volunteers are people just like you. They are business people, parents, professionals, retirees and grandparents who are:
Wanting to make a positive difference where they live
Willing to participate in an in-depth training program
Willing to commit to a least one year of service
Able to pass a background check
_ver age 21
If you would like to hear more about the CASA program, call 615-443-2002 or visit wilsoncountycasa.org.