CASA Conversations

It is Child Abuse Prevention Month. What is a caring person supposed to do?

In 1982, child abuse prevention received national recognition with the designation of the first ever National Child Abuse Prevention Week. In 1983, the movement grew, with the entire month of April designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. These proclamations were made to shine a spotlight on a difficult topic.

For many people, the mere thought of child abuse provokes immediate retreat. No one likes to think about children being mistreated or neglected, especially by the very people charged with loving and caring for them. Yet, odds are, we all know a child who is currently being abused or an adult who was once abused.

Every 10 seconds, a report of child abuse is made to a child protection agency throughout the United States. This data unfortunately only reflects the incidences that get reported. By its very nature, child abuse is secretive. Children aren’t born knowing how they should be properly cared for, how adults should and should not behave, nor do they necessarily know how to ask for help. For these reasons, many instances of child abuse never get reported outside of the family unit.

So what is a caring community member to do if they want to help? It may be easy to conclude that child abuse is for “someone else” to address, or that child abuse only happens “somewhere else.” The statistics would tell you otherwise, however. Child abuse is not confined only to zip codes or particular demographics.

You may have a mental picture of what an abused child or child abuser looks like. If you do nothing else to acknowledge Child Abuse Prevention Month, try removing those mental pictures from your consciousness. They only make you less likely to see or recognize actual child abuse, and the children you least suspect to be vulnerable are the ones who may in fact be the most at risk. If a child cannot count on his/her parents to keep safe, the burden falls to observant adults in the form of neighbors, doctors, nurses, school bus drivers, family friends, dance teachers and troop leaders. It really does take a village.

Please take a minute or two to review the chart below to become familiar with common signs of child abuse. The next time you are interacting with a child, if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, ensure you recognize the signs and call 1-877 NJ ABUSE (1-877-652-2873) or 1-800-422-4453. If every community has more caring adults with the knowledge of what to look for in child victims of abuse or neglect, we can only imagine the difference that will make.

Signs of Child Abuse Chart.jpg

For anyone looking to do a bit more to advance this cause, download a copy of this flyer and post a copy in your office’s lunchroom, neighborhood coffee shop, library bulletin board, or anywhere else you think people will see it. The more people who become familiarized with the signs of child abuse the safer a community becomes.

Finally, if you feel inspired to take more sustained actions against child abuse and neglect, we invite you to join our team of caring volunteer advocates. Known as Court Appointed Special Advocates (or CASAs, for short) these volunteers come from all backgrounds, ages, and demographics. The one thing they have in common is the desire to help a child recover and thrive after abuse or neglect. They are another set of eyes committed to ensuring the well-being of a child while he/she is in foster care. We are always accepting new CASA volunteers, and encourage you to come to an information session to learn more about whether this unique volunteer role is right for you. We have two upcoming sessions on Tuesday, April 2 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 10 a.m.

A 36-hour transformation: how CASA volunteer training creates superhero advocates

By Jessica Mickley, Director of Outreach and Training

It’s the first night of the CASA volunteer training program, and without fail, each volunteer-in-training is echoing the same concerns.

“I’m not an expert in child welfare, and all I know about the legal system I learned from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”

“I’m going to become so emotionally attached! I’m going to want to take the child home with me!”

“How can I know what the child needs? How will I know what is in their best interest?”

And yet, by the last session of the 36-hour volunteer training program, each and every one of them has been transformed into a superhero advocate for children in foster care.

On Friday, March 22, I had the pleasure of watching the final step of the superhero transformation as 20 people received their metaphorical capes. On that day, 20 volunteers took the official oath as Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in foster care.

As the Director of Outreach and Training at Passaic County CASA, I had the privilege of training these new advocates, and many others, from start to finish. Most trainees walk in with zero knowledge of the child welfare system, so that’s where we start— from square one.

I would be lying if I said it was always easy. Throughout every training session, we discuss difficult, sometimes quite personal, topics that often elicit emotional reactions from the trainees. Every volunteer-in-training brings with them a depth of personal experiences that in many cases, will make them even stronger advocates. That doesn’t make the topics any easier to discuss sometimes.

Our training program is built to challenge the trainees, in particular to challenge their perceptions of foster care, of what a child truly needs, and how we, as community members, can advocate for those needs. As a trainer, I urge the trainees to dig deeper, to see all of the co-occurring issues that challenge families who become involved in the child welfare system. We discuss how to view people through a resource lens and use a strengths-based approach when advocating. Throughout the training, we work hard to iron out cultural biases, many of which are implicit, living just below the surface.

But leveling out the difficult topics and hard work are the frequent moments of true understanding, deep compassion, and joy. Throughout the training, little by little, the trainees develop the skills to provide child-focused advocacy for our most vulnerable children.  By the end of training, these volunteers will not be experts in law, social work, or even child welfare; what they will be an expert in, you ask? They will be the expert in their CASA child. They will be the one who knows, and can advocate for, the unique needs of their assigned child.

As a trainer, when this clicks for the volunteers-in-training, when they realize that, yes, each of them has the tools and the knowledge to be this special person for a child, there is nothing better.