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Planting a pinwheel memorial

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader

For the month of April, CASA of the Sabine Neches Region will plant a Pinwheel Garden on the lawn of the County Courthouses and/or City Halls to represent the 211 child fatalities due to abuse or neglect in Texas last year. Two of those children were from Hardin County and one from Orange County.

As the community is still attempting to understand the loss of two children under the age of three this year, there are many more in need of help.

“There were 267 children [in the court system] in Orange County last year,” CASA of the Sabine Neches Region Executive Director Codie Vasquez said.

Many more are in need of CASA representatives as they navigate through the court systems.

CASA is Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Sabine Neches Region giving voice to abused and neglected children in Hardin, Jasper, Newton, Orange, Sabine and Tyler Counties in Texas. They are part of the National CASA Association, a network of more than 900 CASA programs serving children in 49 states and Washington, D.C.

For more information on CASA visit the official website.

With 66,382 confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect and almost every eight minutes a child becomes a victim of abuse or neglect, the need for volunteers to become advocates is rising.

When a child is placed in the foster care system due to abuse or neglect, they are often removed from their home and placed in state care – sometimes far away from their family, loved ones and community. CASA volunteers, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, are everyday people from all walks of life who are recruited and specially trained to advocate for these children and provide a consistent, reliable adult presence for them during a difficult time in their life.

“In addition to the trauma they have already experienced due to the initial abuse or neglect, foster care can take a toll on children,” Vasquez said. “They need an advocate who will get to know them, speak up for them and ensure their needs are met while they are in the system, and that is what our volunteers provide.”

CASA volunteers are assigned to one child or sibling group to advocate for their best interest in court, in school and in other settings. They get to know the child and everyone involved in their life, such as family members, foster parents, therapists and teachers, in order to develop a realistic picture of the child’s unique situation. They make recommendations to the judge overseeing the child’s case, with the goal of ensuring that the child is safe and has the resources needed to heal.

According to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), there were 520 victims of child abuse or neglect and a total of 715 children in the child protection system within the six counties served by CASA of the Sabine Neches Region, these include: Orange, Hardin, Jasper, Tyler, Newton and Sabine County

“Even one child victim of abuse or neglect is too many, and it is critical that we continue to raise awareness of this issue in our community and nationwide,” Vasquez said. “But becoming a CASA volunteer is a way to take it beyond just awareness, and do your part to help break the cycle for future generations.”  

Statewide, the CASA movement is growing faster than ever before. Last year, the 71 CASA programs in Texas recruited a total of 10,856 CASA volunteers to advocate for 30,136 children.

Locally, CASA of the Sabine Neches Region served 325 of the 715 children in the foster care system in Orange, Hardin, Jasper, Tyler, Newton and Sabine counties in 2018, which means there are still 390 children who need someone to speak up for them. This April, consider stepping up to make a difference for these children by becoming a CASA volunteer.

“We at CASA of the Sabine Neches Region always hope for the day when CASA and a national month dedicated to child abuse prevention are no longer needed because all children have the safe, loving home they deserve,” Vasquez said. “Until then, we will continue to seek more members of the community to join our growing movement, and we will not rest until we can provide a CASA volunteer for every child who needs one.”

An Orange County Pinwheel Memorial Vigil will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 6 at the Orange County Courthouse located at 801 Division Ave. in Orange.

The purpose will be to offer the community comfort and support for these losses as well as show the importance of identifying and reporting suspected abuse and neglect.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you see abuse, report it to 1 (800) 252-5400 or go to www.txabusehotline.org.

If a child’s life is in danger, call 911. For more information on CASA, visit www.CASAsnr.org or  www.BecomeaCASA.org.

Information and Training Sessions are currently being offered, with classes scheduled in Orange and Jasper County. Check www.CASAsnr.org/events for the nest session closet to you.

Tassie Ferrill said it is easy to become a volunteer.

“Go online and fill out the application, a background check, be 21 years or older, and take a 30-hour course,” Ferrill said. “Then you are sworn.”

Judge Mandi White-Rogers wanted to remind others of the importance of reporting suspected child abuse.

“Many of these children come into the system with the clothes on their backs, if that,” White-Rogers said. “Under the law, you are obligated to report child abuse. Report it. We just had two removals and we relay on the CASA volunteers as they really do make a difference in court.”

Since 2000, there has been a strong push for a CASA representative for all cases.