Michael Piraino, CEO, National CASA Association
Here we are, more than halfway through National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the news isn’t exactly full of information on the topic. Yet every day in this country, 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect, and four of them will die. Every day. In fact, the United States has the highest rate of deaths by child abuse of any industrialized nation.
How do we get the word out about these staggering statistics? And more important, what are we going to do to stop child abuse and neglect in its tracks? Systems are set up to intervene after abuse is reported, but how do we prevent the abuse in the first place? The answer is that with everyone’s help, we can do something.
We need to start by treating child abuse and neglect like the preventable public health menace that it is. We can demand that politicians support programs aimed at reducing domestic violence and poverty. We can tell them we want funding for counseling, childcare and parenting training for struggling families. We can reach out to caregivers we know who are overwhelmed. We can advocate for child victims through organizations such as National CASA, or become foster or adoptive parents ourselves. And we can report suspected abuse and neglect with a confidential call to 866-363-4276.
The costs of allowing child abuse and neglect to continue in America are simply too high. In fact, one study indicates that the price tag on maltreatment over just one child’s lifetime in health care, social services and productivity losses is huge — $210,012 for non-fatal cases and $1,272,900 for fatal situations. Those numbers are comparable to the cost of raising a child to adulthood in a middle-class family.
The human cost is just as severe, including poorer physical and mental health — an impact that can last throughout the child’s life.
We should do all we can to prevent child abuse and support its victims. Every child, regardless of traumatic experiences, has the potential to grow up to be a happy, productive and responsible adult. Our CASA programs see statistics translated to success stories every day. Just last week, I was in the audience when Suamhirs Rivera, a young man who credits a CASA volunteer with turning his life around received an Immigrant Youth Achievement Award for his foster care advocacy work.
With your help, we can create more success stories like this one. The good you can do for a child in your community will last a lifetime — yours and the child’s.
Thank you to guest blogger Suamhirs Rivera for sharing his story with us.
- Suamhirs (in blue) at 2012 National CASA Annual Conference
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States. But I was born in Honduras, and no one was there to prevent what I endured at the hands of my father.
He was a doctor with a good job. He also was often drunk and abusive. By the time I was 9, he had left 57 scars on my body. He came home drunk one night and began beating my mother. I jumped in to defend her, and he attacked me too.
After that he was gone. But as the oldest in the family, I had to work. By age 16, I had come to America to support my family. I went to live with my godmother, but she began selling me to whoever paid the most. It would be six months until the police rescued me.
I went into foster care at 16 and was promised that my life would be better in every way. But it wasn’t. In two years, I lived in 17 different foster and group homes. And I was put on more than a dozen medications because they were afraid I would abuse other children. Everything became just another trauma.
Finally I met someone who would show me the America I wanted to see: my CASA volunteer, Marcos. He introduced me to a world that was full of joy, free of pain, free of failure. He refined my English and helped me with my education. He also helped me get my green card before I turned 18, so I wouldn’t be deported. Marcos wasn’t just a mentor — he reformed my life and turned it around 180 degrees.
Unfortunately, funding is being cut for programs like CASA. I know that I would not be here today without CASA’s help. I work full time, and I’m a part-time student at UC San Diego, with a double major in political science and international studies.
I also teach people how to talk with abused kids in foster care. People need to understand childhood trauma so they can avoid stigmatizing, discriminating against and labeling abused kids. And maybe these kids will learn — like I did — that human beings have the ability to stand up, clean themselves off and become productive members of society. All we need is people who care, who understand and who can help.
People like CASA volunteers and donors. People like you.
Please help CASA for Children reach every child who needs one. Learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer.
Sequestration is a scary word. Outside of Washington, DC, it has the sense of seizing property or isolating juries. But the DC definition—a general cut in funding—carries a real likelihood of danger. Danger to children.
Many programs that keep children safe, educated and healthy are supported at least in part through federal discretionary spending. An eight percent reduction in those funds may not sound like an overwhelming amount. But it comes on top of already large cutbacks for children. In recent years, 31 federal programs for children have
been entirely eliminated, and another 71 saw their funding reduced, affecting
everything from child safety to health and education.
It’s not as though these programs aren’t sorely needed. One of the programs, cut back by nearly 77%, was for violence prevention in schools. It’s too bad it takes an awful incident in an elementary school for people to realize how important this funding is. Do children have to die before we think about investing in their safety?
Recent funding cutbacks have already threatened to hamstring core commitments our nation made to children. Among the most vulnerable are children who cannot live safely at home due to abuse and neglect. They are under the care of state child welfare systems—which are already reeling from previous federal and state cutbacks. Yet funding for the four child abuse programs in the Victims of Child Abuse Act were targeted for elimination in the last two Administration budgets. Congress did step in and preserve funding, though at hugely reduced levels. These levels may be reduced even further through sequestration this Friday.
These federal funding trends would be of less concern if private charitable giving was helping to fill in at least part of the need. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Charitable giving for human service organizations declined last year. Over the last five years, the number of new donors giving to human services has gone down.
It is downright expensive not to make investments in good programs that help children. For example, a foster youth who is connected to a trusted advocate and mentor is more likely to carry with her a varied set of protective factors. Research shows that this will lead to more positive outcomes. And the consequence of not doing right by a foster youth? Tens of thousands age out of that system every year and are at high risk for homelessness, unemployment and criminal behavior.
The median cost of a single incarceration was $31,000 in 2010. We would all save money, and feel safer, if we invested that money in young people rather than wasting it on prison cells.
Politicians are fond of referring to every parent’s dream of a better life for their children. If we believe in our children’s safety and well-being, then budget decisions need to be based on a real understanding of the connection between funding and those dreams for our children.
Guest blogger Judge Ernestine S. Gray is the chief judge of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court and a former president of the National CASA Association Board of Trustees.
Lately we are hearing a lot about the power—and necessity—of collective action. President Obama said it loud and clear in his January inaugural speech.
When I heard the president say that “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores…” I knew exactly what he meant.
As a juvenile court judge and as a long-standing supporter of the CASA cause, no one needs to convince me that positive outcomes are made possible by collective action. Every day I make decisions that change the lives of the children and families seated before me. I tell mothers that their love for their children is not equaled by their ability to care for them; I congratulate fathers for taking the first steps necessary to regain custody of their children. I make decisions and recommendations with the stroke of a pen or the pounding of a gavel that forever change people’s lives, hopefully for the better.
Making such life-changing decisions weighs heavily on every juvenile court judge’s heart. The only reason I can feel confident that I am making the best decision I can for the children looking up at me is because a community of compassionate adults—including CASA volunteers empowered by my court—has provided the critical information I need.
The saying may be well worn but I know it to be true: It takes a village to raise a child. In the case of a juvenile court judge, the village includes CASA volunteers and others to ensure that we do the right thing by the children whose care and whose futures have been placed in the hands of our public child welfare systems. In the courtroom, the juvenile court judges are the gatekeepers of that system. But as I hear President Obama say, no one succeeds alone. Only by working together do we stand a real chance at fulfilling society’s obligations to all of its children.
We thank guest blogger Alan Abramowitz for sharing this news about the “normalcy bill” currently being debated in his state of Florida. Abramowitz is the executive director of the Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program. In Florida and a few other states, CASA programs are referred to as guardian ad litem programs.
Florida Senate Bill 164 is the “Quality Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act,” also known as the “normalcy bill” or “permission to parent bill.” It is an important law that needs to be passed so children in foster care can be like every other kid. Children in a group called Youth Shine and the volunteer guardian ad litems around the state have led the way in pursuing this new law. Many of the children have turned 18 in foster care and want to make sure that those children still in foster care don’t have to experience what they went through. Many of the volunteer guardian ad litems are fed up with their kids being treated differently from other kids.
As the executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, I talk to many children and teenagers who live in foster and group homes. It is not unusual for these conversations to center around their complaints about a lack of a normal life. Moving from school to school, not being allowed to play school sports, not being able to use the phone or participate in school trips are just of the few comments I regularly hear. For years, Florida child advocates have fought to correct these problems by promoting the concept of “normalcy.” It is something we have all been striving to provide for children who, through no fault of their own, end up in foster care.
The legal standard in Florida is for decision makers to balance “safety” and “normalcy.” The problem with this requirement is that many providers equate “safety” with “liability.” Talk about the issue with any lawyer who represents an organization providing residential care, and the word liability will be the central theme. It’s not difficult to see why something as “normal” as a teenager going to the beach would become a bureaucratic nightmare.
Recently, many of these youth met with the sponsors of the bill. Representative Ben Albritton and Senator Nancy Detert listened as each youth told their story of how they experienced not having a normal childhood because their foster parent or their group home had rules contrary to normalcy. One young adult described not being allowed to join the high school band travel team because they couldn’t background check everyone they might encounter on a trip. Another talked about being pulled out of a picture with the legislature last year because she was under 18 and “couldn’t be associated with foster care” on Facebook. Another story was from a youth who was not allowed to go out on a boat with the foster family because of the fear of drowning.
One important lesson from these youth was that each of them remembered a situation in which foster parents and group homes broke the rules and exposed themselves to losing their license so these kids could be like all the other kids. These were courageous foster parents and group homes, and hearing of their bravery was inspiring.
There is no reason foster parents and group homes should have to break the rules in order to give youth a normal life in foster care. This is really a call to action for all of us to state unequivocally that caregivers of children in foster care must have “permission to parent” so that children can participate in age-appropriate extracurricular, enrichment and social activities.
I don’t know if the bill will be passed, but I anticipate that many children in foster care — as well as children previously in foster care, guardians ad litem, parents and caregivers — will understand why this legislative proposal is critical.