Contributed by Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services, Inc.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, children and families have been isolated and under more financial and emotional stress, which historically, can fuel a rise in cases of child abuse and neglect.
During the pandemic, the reports of child abuse and neglect have been declining in both Georgia and Alabama, yet nationally, it is projected to be an increase in child abuse and neglect when our communities return to some semblance of normal. We don’t know exactly how the world will look for children and families in the months ahead. What we do know is that communities have a mandate to support children and families and work to prevent abuse and neglect during these difficult times.
During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services and their Child Advocacy Centers (Children’s Tree House CAC in Columbus, Georgia and the Twin Cedars CAC in Opelika and our Court Appointed Special Advocate or CASA programs; Chattahoochee CASA in Columbus and Lee County CASA in Opelika) reminds everyone to keep eyes on children and support families during these challenging times.
Since the pandemic, our CACs and CASAs staff and volunteers have remained committed to providing forensic services and best-interest advocacy for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
In state fiscal year 2020 (October – September), Columbus received 2,995 reports of suspected abuse and investigate 980 reports and 510 children were in/out of foster care with an average daily census of 391. In Lee County, Alabama, there were 745 reports of suspected abuse involving 1,205 children and 143 children were in/out of foster care with an average daily census of 96. Our Columbus CAC conducted 374 Forensic Interviews, 62 Forensic Medical Exams and 650 therapy sessions. Our Opelika CAC conducted 231 Forensic Interviews, 18 Forensic Medical Exams and 284 therapy sessions. Our Columbus CASA program supervises 95 community volunteers who provided individual courtroom advocacy to 225 children and provided 4,796 hours of advocacy. Our Lee County CASA program supervises 25 community volunteers who provided individual courtroom advocacy to 75 children and provided 843 hours of advocacy.
CASA advocacy is centered on children currently in foster care. A child in foster care may have faced physical, psychological, emotional or all of the above, only to endure long periods of uncertainty in the system as they wait to go home, be adopted or simply wait to see what happens next. On average, a child in foster care will move into multiple homes and attend multiple schools. All this uncertainty and inconsistency has long-term effects. But having a caring, consistent adult — someone who listens, checks in and puts the child’s best interests before all others’, can make all the difference.
As COVID continues to disrupt the economics of both communities and around the state, rates of child abuse and neglect are five times higher for children in families with low socio-economic status compared to children in families with higher socio-economic status. Children and youth who have spent time in the system are more likely to be at risk for dropping out of high school, incarceration, homelessness and unemployment.
You have the power to make a difference in the life of an abused or neglected child. Get educated to recognize the sign and symptoms of child abuse and report suspected child abuse or neglect – ask us how! Other ways to help; consider becoming a CASA Volunteer Advocate or Friend of CASA. Donate to our programs or become a monthly supporter in your community. Be a community partner against child abuse and like/share on our social media accounts; Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services, Inc., Children’s Tree House Child Advocacy Center, Twin Cedars Child Advocacy Center, Chattahoochee CASA, Lee County CASA on Facebook and Instagram.
Children’s Tree House, Samantha DeFranks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706.327.9612 ext. 1502
Twin Cedars CAC, Katherine Cochrane at email@example.com or 334.705.0770 ext. 4003
Chattahoochee CASA, Keagan Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706.327.9612 ext. 1510
Lee County CASA, Latasha Durr at email@example.com or 334.703.4066.