April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and officials from Hall-Dawson CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) say there are many ways that community members can help make a difference in the lives of children in dangerous or unsafe situations.
Janet Walden, executive director of Hall-Dawson CASA, said that every year for Child Prevention Month she and her organization celebrate the important adults who help to give local children, especially those who may be in abusive situations, a constant in their lives.
“Every year when April comes around we really focus on and bring attention to child abuse prevention,” Walden said. “The reality for me is I don’t know that we know how to prevent child abuse, but what we know is children are less likely to be abused if they have an important adult in their life.”
Walden said that being an important adult for a child can include big things like being a foster family, but can also be something as small as helping the child navigate the everyday struggles of growing up.
“We have amazing foster parents who do that every day, and every day in this work it’s a CASA volunteer who’s asking questions about how to further a child’s success or doing something like sitting down and helping them fill out their first job application,” Walden said. “So it’s just little things that make a difference.”
According to Walden, one way to become the important adult in a child’s life is through volunteering with organizations like CASA.
“When children come into foster care because of abuse or neglect, they are appointed a CASA volunteer when we have one available and that person becomes the consistent adult in that child’s life and works to build relationships and networks for that child to have other consistent adults in their life,” Walden said. "We don’t have the capacity to serve every child that needs us, so we’re looking for CASA volunteers that are willing to step up and be that person for a child.”
CASA volunteers meet with the child and the child’s family, gather information about the situation and then speak in court on the child’s behalf. While volunteering with CASA is a commitment, Walden said that CASA staff help the volunteers the whole time.
“This is a volunteer gig that’s really not like most; we’re asking people to step into the life of the child during a very chaotic time for that child and work with the family, but we don’t leave people alone while doing that,” Walden said. “We have an incredible staff that have expertise and volunteers are partnered with one of those folks to walk with them.”
Walden said that in the end, the goal is to help every child to find permanence in a safe, non-abusive home, either through helping improve the situation the child is already in or through adoption or foster care.
“How rewarding it is at the end of the time when they can help the child find a permanent home,” Walden said.
According to Walden, in light of Child Abuse Prevention Month, she and her organization encourage the community to reflect back on the adults who helped them grow up and to think about how to play that role in a child’s life, whether through volunteering with CASA or simply looking for opportunities to be there for a child in need.
“My charge or call to action for the community is to think back over who was important in your life — so for me, it was a coach, a teacher, of course, my parents, and other people throughout my life who had a huge influence on me being successful,” Walden said. “My call to action for the community is to make the choice to be an important adult for a child.”
For more information on Hall-Dawson CASA or to read more about Child Abuse Prevention Month, go to https://www.halldawsoncasa.org/news-events/newsroom.html/article/2021/03/23/heroes-among-us-