The Role of the CASA Advocate is One of Patience

Hank greets everyone with a big, welcoming smile and friendly blue eyes. His presence is comforting, and that is especially important because Hank is a CASA for Children advocate who speaks on behalf of children living in the foster care system.

Children living in foster care have experienced traumatizing abuse or neglect. A comforting, consistent, caring adult, like Hank with a bright smile and a big heart, is just what these children need at what could be the saddest time of their young lives.

When you listen to CASA Hank talk about the two girls, ages five and seven, and their nine-year-old brother who he advocates for, you hear how much he genuinely cares about their welfare.


You can hear the excitement in Hank’s voice when he talks about the boy, who we will call Jack, and all the potential he sees in him. The first time Hank met Jack at his school, Hank says, “He met me with a big grin and immediately interacted with me. It was a very gratifying experience.”

Hank and Jack formed their first connection over baseball, discussing the great Hank Aaron during one of his visits. On the next visit Hank says, “This little boy was so excited to tell me all about how Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.” On the next visit Jack is “telling me all about Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King. He is such an impressive and engaging little boy. We can only hope the system we have can do right by him,” said Hank.

Jack’s two little sisters, who we will call Molly and Kristen, have also touched Hank’s heart. They live in a different foster placement from their brother, as often happens when multiple siblings are removed from their home.

In spite of the trauma the younger Molly has experienced, “she is still a typical five-year-old, excited as she runs to show me her latest craft or coloring project,” said Hank. However, Hank’s eyes sadden a bit when he recounts a conversation with seven-year-old Kristen. “When I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to tell the judge, she answered, ‘Tell the judge that I don’t want to be a foster kid anymore, tell him I want to go home,’” Hank said.

While Hank stays focused on the children, the case still involves the adults as well, including foster, biological, and adoptive parents. The challenges facing many of the adults in the children’s lives sometimes compound the trauma that the children have already experienced – their mom disappears for two months, then returns; their dad is not initially in the picture; the foster parents were not interested in adoption, and then later wanted to adopt. It is easy to see how the children’s voices can get lost in the process. Even when Hank was certain that the children were finally going to realize their “forever adoptive home,” the case took a different path as the children’s father, now in a stable home and relationship, stepped in to bring his children home.

When Hank met them at their family court hearing, he could not help but notice a close and affectionate relationship between dad and son. You could see that “Jack was proud of his dad,” said Hank.

For Hank, because regardless of each family circumstance, “As a CASA,” Hank says, “even though I may be conflicted at times…I give the court my observations and let the judge take it from there. In this case, there is a dad who loves his kids and the kids want to go home.”

Hank’s role as a CASA has changed his view of the child welfare system. It has also been both a spiritual and analytical journey for him. After years as a member of a hospital board, “It was time for me to have more personal contact. I wanted to be a positive person (making a difference) on an individual level,” Hank said.

CASA advocates bring so many skills and personality traits to their role. As Hank spoke about his case, it was easy to see how important every one of these traits are to be CASA. For Hank, he will continue to advocate for the best interest of Jack, Molly and Kristen…watching over them, hopeful that their journey will have a happy ending – that is what being a CASA is all about: making a difference, one child at a time. @CASA4Children

Let’s call it what it is – Peer Abuse.

Let’s call it what it is – Peer Abuse.

Let’s call it what it is – Peer Abuse.  With bullying, the dominant figure unsuspectingly presents as your peer, your equal and traditionally during childhood a crucial time for brain development, social skill development and confidence development.


Studies consistently show that victims of peer abuse are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, isolation, and fear. Often times, the abused do not confide in their parents or teachers. These feelings fester, and if left untreated, can have profound, long-term effects on a child’s social development that carries into adulthood and presents in a myriad of emotional, physical and psychological symptoms ranging from sleep and eating disorders to mental illness.

It is well understood that abusers target the vulnerable, those unlikely to retaliate. So bullies target the one in their midst who tends to be different, the one who does not have the support, the confidence or the coping skills to properly stand-up for oneself.

The child-victim is most vulnerable.

Bullies find the children who are different, the children who “do not fit in.” The taunting only emphasizes to that child that they may be different, and stresses their vulnerability with their peers.

Imagine that you are a displaced child – like many children living in the foster care system. If children in a familiar environment with strong family and other relationships do not vocalize the abuse to trusted adults, what are the chances a child feeling alone and unsupported will reach out for help?

Many believe some type of intimidation is a normal, childhood rite-of-passage. To many, the thought of a “bully” brings to mind the caricature of the biggest kid on the playground not picking you for his dodgeball team. But today, with the many additional electronic, and often anonymous, ways that children can be bullied, the big kid on the playground represents only a small fraction of the modern bullying reality.

But whether the bully is the big kid on the playground or the anonymous text stalker, one thing remains constant – when you consider the victims – who and why they are victims – and the long-term effects of their being victims – you clearly see that bullying is and always will be abuse.


Why Child Abuse Prevention Month Matters

Blog Post Author: Child Trends | 

Some observances are ones you wish you did not have to mark. With some 686,000 children victimized annually by physical, mental, or sexual abuse, National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April is one of those observances.  If there is good news here, it is that reports of child abuse have been declining slightly over recent years.

Congress first drew national attention to the pervasive issue of child maltreatment in 1982 bydeclaring June 6-12 to be Child Abuse Prevention Week. President Reagan expanded the initiative by declaring the entire month of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This tradition carries on as various communities mark 2014’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month with demonstrations such as employees at a children’s hospital in Colorado lining up to form a giant blue ribbon to honor children in Colorado who have died from child abuse and neglect, or individuals planting blue pinwheels in parks or on the grounds of legislatures to bring community awareness to the issue of child maltreatment.

The latest figures by The Children’s Bureau’s Annual Report on Child Maltreatment provide updated statistics on our nation’s reported incidences of child abuse and neglect. The report indicates that in 2012:

  • Child protective service workers responded to an estimated 3.8 million allegations of child abuse or neglect nationwide.
  • An estimated 686,000 children were victims of child maltreatment.
  • The most common form of maltreatment was neglect (78.3 percent of all substantiated cases), followed by physical abuse (18.3 percent) and sexual abuse (9.3 percent).
  • 13.3 percent of victims were reported as having a disability.
  • 81.5 percent of victims of maltreatment were abused by one or both parents.

Nationally, child maltreatment rates have been experiencing small declines since 2008. According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, in 2011 overall rates of substantiated cases of child maltreatment declined approximately 2 percent from 2010 to 2011. Consistent with this trend, child victimization rates havedeclined by 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2012, resulting in an estimated 30,000 fewer victims of child maltreatment in 2012 as compared to 2008.

In interpreting these findings, it is important to keep in mind that victimization statistics are based on substantiated allegations of maltreatment. Additional cases that go unreported, or cases that lack sufficient evidence to be substantiated, are not included in the counts of victims. Indeed, “big data” have been used to try to assess how well substantiated reports correspond with the incidence of maltreatment. Analyses of Google search data by economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, summarized in a New York Times op-ed last April, provided some evidence that the incidence of maltreatment may have actually increased between 2010 and 2011, a period during which substantiated reports of maltreatment declined. While big data are unlikely to provide us with accurate rates of the incidence of maltreatment, they are useful for reminding us of the fuzziness of estimates based on administrative data (i.e., case-level data used by child welfare agencies). Nevertheless, both data sources indicate that child maltreatment is an ongoing and substantial problem.

What factors place a child at risk for child maltreatment? Children under the age of four are most at risk for abuse or neglect. In addition, children with disabilities and special needs, children living in low-income households, or with single parents, or parents dealing with substance abuse are at increased risk of abuse or neglect. On a broader level, children raised by caregivers in an environment in which violence is prevalent in the community and in which the caregiver has a lack of social supports are at an increased risk for child maltreatment. Although these risk factors have been shown to be associated with child maltreatment, the link is not strong, making it difficult to predict which children are most likely to be victims of maltreatment. This presents a particular challenge for child maltreatment prevention programs. 

Child welfare professionals have worked together to develop effective strategies for preventing child abuse and maltreatment.  The Children’s Bureau has compiled a resource,Making Meaningful Connections: 2014 Resource Guide, designed for community-based child welfare professionals. The resource contains guidance on topics including protective factors for reducing child abuse, community engagement, and tip sheets for working with parents. Additionally, the 2014 National Child Abuse Prevention Month website presentsa media toolkitwith suggested social media posts, such as for Facebook and Twitter, for increasing awareness of child maltreatment.  With the proper knowledge, tools, and awareness, community members can work together to prevent child abuse and neglect. And maybe some day, we won’t have to observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Megan Novak, research assistant