By Jack King
In Curry County, 450 children a year suffer some form of abuse or neglect, according to the Ninth Judicial District’s Family and Children’s Court Services.
The abuse can range from lack of food, decent clothing and shelter to physical and sexual victimization, said Marsha Gilliland, executive director of CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocates for these children.
CASA has proclaimed April “Child Abuse Prevention Month,” and, as it does each year, will hold a candlelight and prayer ceremony at noon on April 1 at the Curry County Courthouse.
“We find kids living in homes without heat, electricity or running water, where, because of no power, the food is rotting in the refrigerator. The causes can be caretakers with substance abuse problems, or with mental illness or low I.Q’s — a host of things,” she said.
The ceremony is intended to increase public awareness of child abuse, but CASA also is seeking volunteers to help the children and teenagers who get pulled into the state’s child care system as a result of abuse and/or neglect.
Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers. Specially trained and sworn officers of the court, they serve as neutral parties who, after a young person has been placed in the custody of the Children, Youth and Families Department, observe the young person’s circumstances and interview the parties involved to make sure he or she winds up in a safe, nurturing environment.
“We can’t make decisions, but we can raise concerns and make recommendations. It could be anything from reporting that a child needs glasses to saying in court, ‘Your honor, that child’s father has failed his drug test. I’m concerned about sending her back to that environment,’” said Gilliland.
Curry County’s CASA now has 24 volunteers, but Gilliland’s goal is to have at least 50 by the end of the year. Ideally, each case of child abuse — there can be one or more children per case — should have its own advocate, she said.
Those interested can call Gilliland at 769-2656 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.