Brownwood, Texas – Backpacks, pencils and notebooks are filling up the aisles in stores all over Texas, reminding us that a new school year is just around the corner. The beginning of the school year can be an exciting time for most children, but it can also lead to more reports of child abuse and neglect as faculty, staff and other parents notice signs of maltreatment children may have endured during their time away.
Schools on average make up 13 percent of abuse and neglect reports and tend to be one of the highest sources of reports each year. Last year, schools accounted for 15% of the 453,930 reports of abuse or neglect made to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
“During the summer, sometimes signs of abuse or neglect go unnoticed due to fewer interactions with teachers and other adults outside their family,” said Michelle Wells, executive director of CASA in the Heart of Texas. “Teachers and school officials are required by law to report any signs of abuse, so it is quite common for there to be a rise in reports when school starts again.”
The increase in DFPS reports during the new school year frequently leads to more children entering the overburdened child welfare system, creating an urgent need for more CASA volunteers to speak up for the best interests of these children.
Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers are everyday members of the community that are specially trained and appointed by judges to advocate for children in foster care. Volunteers are assigned to serve one child or sibling group, and tasked with evaluating their unique situation by getting to know them and speaking to any and all relevant contacts in their lives – accurately assessing the child’s needs and best interests when it comes to their foster placement, school and other settings.
“In addition to the abuse or neglect they’ve already suffered, it is traumatizing for children to be placed in foster care, because they are taken away from their home, family, friends and everything they have ever known due to no fault of their own,” said Wells. “Our committed volunteers at CASA in the Heart of Texas stand by children’s side during this difficult time, work hard to ensure their voice is heard, and protect their best interests.”
CASA volunteers make an effort to form a relationship with these children individually, getting to know them and gathering important information about their unique physical, emotional and educational needs. By speaking up for children’s best interests and acting as the eyes and ears of the court, CASA volunteers help ensure that the children they serve are safe, their needs are addressed, and they have the support and resources they need to heal and thrive.
CASA in the Heart of Texas has served 112 children so far this year, but there are still many children without a CASA volunteer to advocate for their needs – a number that is likely to grow as the school year begins. CASA is currently taking applications for the next training class to begin in August or September.
“CASA in the Heart of Texas urgently needs more advocates that can make a difference in the lives of these children, especially now that the back-to-school season has begun,” said Joanne McCraw, Recruiter/Trainer. “Become a CASA volunteer to ensure that all children get the support they deserve both in school and beyond – giving them a better chance at a brighter future.”