This year in Bexar County, 19 children suffered abuse-related deaths. Some 6,000 cases of child abuse were confirmed, meaning that one out of every 100 children in our community is a victim – the highest per capita ratio in the state of Texas.
The US Department of Health and Human Services states that victims of abuse experience devastating lifelong aftereffects, including depression, lower cognitive capacity, lower grades in school, and relationship difficulties.
Children who suffer abuse or neglect are 53 percent more likely to become juvenile delinquents, 38 percent more likely to be arrested as adults, and 38 percent more likely to commit a violent crime. Worst of all, research suggests that one-third of child abuse victims will perpetuate this cycle of violence by mistreating their own children.
Child abuse is a community problem that impacts and damages each of us, in a direct or indirect way. The subject is undoubtedly an ominous, overwhelming one, with no obvious silver bullet solution.
As difficult to broach as the topic is for adults, imagine what it means to be a child living in a situation of fear and danger. Should we leave these innocents to feel that fear on their own, or do we stand by them, lend them our voice, and speak out for them?
In order to bring attention to this ignored population here in our own city, Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) reached out to Theatre for Change to stage a groundbreaking television pilot called Region 8: True Stories From Texas’ Foster System.
The story offers a powerful look into the lives of three people who are brave enough to endure the heartbreak, and rejoice in the triumphs, of working as a CASA advocate, a foster parent, and a CPS investigator in a system that is seemingly broken from the inside out. Sadly, there are not enough people volunteering their heart, time, and resources to serve as ground troops in a war made up of innocents.
Written by Texas Lutheran University professor Shannon Ivey, a native San Antonian and founder of Theatre for Change, and Windell Middlebrooks, star of ABC’s television series “Body of Proof," Region 8 is based on the true stories collected from hundreds of interviews in one of South Texas' worst foster care regions.
“I am a foster mother first and a storyteller second,” said Ivey. “I have witnessed firsthand the vulnerability of San Antonio’s most precious possibilities: children who would soar if someone simply believed in them. Our aim with Region 8 is to put a face to an affliction and a story to a statistic.”
Middlebrooks will star in the piece, along with some of the most dynamic and familiar artists of San Antonio and Los Angeles, including Shelly Chance, Molly Cox, Jose Ruben De Leon, Mikala Gibson, Greg Hinojosa, Stephen Ivey, Ellie Leeper, David Legore, Jenni Morin, David Soop, Alyssa Tiemann, and Andrew Thorton. Supported by the media direction of Terry Price, Ivey will be at the helm directing the project.
Funded in part by the Jack and Jesse Brown Endowment, Region 8 will run at Texas Lutheran University at 7 p.m. on April 4, 2014, and at The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre at 7 p.m. on April 6, 2014 (ticket prices vary).
The performance will highlight how regular individuals can help stem the tide of this epidemic of child abuse by volunteering their time as a foster parent or child advocate. It will drive home the point that every single person in this city has the ability to make a real difference in the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community. You personally have the ability to stand up for these children and for our community by becoming a Child Advocate.
The courts appoint a CASA volunteer to a child’s case. This person serves as the “eyes and ears” of the judge and provides recommendations based on the firsthand insight and information gained through spending quality time with the child.
For many abused children, their CASA volunteer is the one reliable adult presence in their lives. “To give a child a CASA is to give them a voice,” said Pamela, a former foster child. “To give them a voice is to give them hope, and to give them hope is to give them the world.”
Donating 15 hours of your time per month can affect real positive change – and not just in one child’s life, but in the whole of our county.
National statistics demonstrate that a child with a CASA volunteer is half as likely to re-enter foster care, substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care, and more likely to be adopted. He or she is 20% more likely to pass her school courses and more likely to receive medical and educational services.
Now more than ever, judges rely on advocates’ independent, impartial recommendations to speak to children’s needs and best interests. CASAs help to ensure that children neither fall victim to the cycle of abuse nor slip through the cracks of an overburdened system.
Judge Peter Sakai of the 225th District Court emphasized the importance of CASA’s role. “The best way to prevent child abuse is to stop the cycle,” the judge said. “Child Advocates San Antonio gives these young victims what no agency can: someone to speak up for them and someone to trust.”
By the year 2020, Bexar County judges have requested that every child in the system receive a CASA volunteer. Today, two-thirds of children removed from their homes each year lack access to this critical opportunity.
“Child Advocates San Antonio is a volunteer driven organization whose primary responsibility is to advocate for the best interest of abused and neglected children who have entered the foster care system,” said CASA president and CEO Rick Cooke, “but unfortunately, the need for volunteers continues to grow. Because abuse and neglect of children is a community challenge, what better way to meet that challenge than through the mobilization of community volunteers?”
We all have the power to make a difference. To become heroes in our everyday life. And when we act, we are given the gift of knowing we changed the world around us for the better.
A preliminary version of this article ran in the August 2013 edition of La Prensa.
Elisabeth Reise is the Recruitment and Training Manager at Child Advocates San Antonio and a graduate of Trinity University. For more information on volunteering, please visit the CASA website at www.casa-satx.org or call 210-225-7070.