Child abuse is a topic many find challenging to discuss or even think about, but it's necessary, especially with the alarming statistics reported annually in this country. According to the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 3.4 million reports of child abuse were filed in 2011 in the United States, which actually affects nearly 6 million children. However, it is estimated the actual number of incidents of abuse and neglect could be three times more than what is actually reported by professionals (police officers, social workers, attorneys, etc.) and nonprofessionals who are neighbors, friends and family members.
For more than 30 years, April has been recognized as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect. This month is also a time dedicated to encouraging individuals and communities to support children and families while preventing abuse from happening.
While there are numerous groups working to stop the abuse and neglect of children, this will focus on CASA and Prevent Child Abuse America.
CASA , which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, is an outstanding national nonprofit organization with chapters through the country. It helps children throughout the United States find permanent and safe homes in which they can live and thrive. It began in Seattle, Wash.m in 1977 because The Honorable Judge David Soukup was frustrated by the lack of substantial information given to him in child abuse and neglect proceedings. Judge Soukup believed these children needed a voice and an advocate who spoke just for them and with this seemingly simple idea, a national movement and organization was started. Today, community volunteers are recruited and trained to provide child protection judges with key and sometimes vital information and details about the very complex lives of court-involved children and their families.
Since CASA's beginning, there have been more than 75,000 CASA volunteers involved. Together they have donated a total of 5.8 million hours serving well over one million children. They are making an incredible and lifelong impact on children's lives nationally. Currently the organization has more than 955 programs in all 50 states. It has been documented by CASA that when a volunteer is involved, a child is less likely to be moved frequently between several different homes and is 95 percent less likely to have to re-enter the foster care system. However, there is more work to be done. For example in the Chicagoland area, CASA of Cook County helps more than 650 children each year; however there are almost 7000 children in the foster care system in Cook County alone. This means only 10% are being helped. There is still a continuing need for help. Find your local CASA chapter to see how you can help!
Another amazing nonprofit organization is Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America). It works to prevent abuse and neglect before it happens. This is done through the education of parents, children and entire communities to increase awareness of key prevention programs, support groups and the affect abuse and neglect can have on not only the child but the public as well. Some children who fall victim to abuse are placed into the foster care system by state authorities. According to PCA America, this is meant to be a short-term alternative while determining one of the following three permanent solutions: reunification with the biological parent, conversion of the foster home to legally permanent guardianship or adoption, or placement of the child into another legally permanent family.
Founded in 1972, Prevent Child Abuse America was the first organization founded in the United States with the sole purpose of preventing child abuse and neglect. PCA America works at both the government and community level to ensure systems are in place to make prevention possible. With its national headquarters located in Chicago, PCA America has chapters in 47 states and manages over 353 different locally based strategies that help meet the mission. Celebrities and high profile personalities involved with PCA America and serving on their National Honorary Board include Michael Bolton, Bill Cosby, Grant Hill, Jack Nicklaus, Tamia Hill, Bob Costas, and Tommie Harris serving on their National Honorary Board. To find events and activities going on throughout the month, find your local PCA America Chapter.
Founded by two Hollywood actresses in 1959 after a trip to Japan, Child Help shares on its website there is a report of child abuse made every ten (10) seconds. More shocking is that five children a day die of child abuse in the US. Read the story of how two women, Sara O'Meara and Yvonne Fedderson who once played the girlfriends of Ricky and David Nelson on the show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, plus a chance encounter with 11 orphans and Nancy Reagan propelled them into action!
With all these statistics, many of which are overwhelming, you might think there is nothing you can do to change this situation. However, I would advocate there are a number of things you can do to help today. Here are five tips for ways you can become involved and begin Making A Difference (M.A.D.):
- Learn more about the warning signs of child abuse and become aware; knowledge is power and you can become knowledgeable; then be courageous and use your voice to report child abuse when you see it
- Make a financial donation to nonprofit organizations working in this area including Prevent Child Abuse America, CASA or Child Help; if you want to get involved locally find their chapters and groups; remember, every little bit helps
- Consider becoming a volunteer for CASA and working directly with the children you're helping
- Make your home a safe place for children; work to be accessible so children who might be suffering from abuse have a place to go and a person to speak with about what is happening to them
- Volunteer at a child abuse prevention organization; for some of us working with children who are abused could be too difficult, but there are many opportunities to get involved
Bonus Tip: Consider hosting a fundraiser in your community or with your network of friends to raise funds and awareness for an organization working to help children be safe!
Children are believed to be our most valuable resource. By working together we will ensure they are protected and safe. By getting yourself involved, you will be Making A Difference! What are you doing today to be M.A.D.?