Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) has helped almost 1,900 abused and neglected children navigate through the child protective service system in the past year with the help of 571 court-appointed mentors called "Advocates."
"The services we advocate for range from helping an abused child gain access to medical attention she or he needs, to providing empathetic moral support and upholding the best interests of a child during court hearings, to helping an abused child find a permanent home," stated CASA Vice President of Development Elisabeth Reise.
By connecting these kids to resources and services, CASA estimates that Advocates are able to cut eight months off the amount of time children spend in the system and "children served are half as likely to ever reenter foster care."
But there's a gap. More than 5,400 victims of child abuse and neglect were confirmed last year.
The Gallery of Hope and fundraising gala of the same name started three years ago to encourage participation and funding for CASA programming by demonstrating just what it is that CASA really does: improve the quality of life for some of Bexar County's most vulnerable children. The multimedia gallery is a collection of photographs and corresponding personal stories of Advocates and their assigned child, giving solid examples of the challenges and triumphs of the system. Seeing, reading, and hearing their stories is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
The third annual Gallery of Hope Gala will be held on Thursday, Oct. 29 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Eilan Hotel Resort and Spa. The evening will include snacks, cocktails, entertainment, a live and silent auction, and a showing of the Gallery of Hope exhibit. Individual tickets are $150 and couple/package deals are available. Proceeds go directly to the daily work that CASA does for Bexar County foster children. Click here for event details.
One CASA Advocate featured this year is Sara Blount, who worked with William, 10, Joshua, 5, and Juliette, 4 – see them in the top photo by local photographer Josh Huskin. Several local photographers and artists including artist group Los Otros, Alexander Hilmy, and Daniela Riojas have donated their time and talents to support the project.
These particular siblings were "removed from their parents' home due to domestic violence and ongoing drug abuse," wrote Blount in her Gallery of Hope essay.
Blount found that the children had not only been separated from each other by the system, but that William has been moved so much he has already attended three different elementary schools. Remember, he's only 10 years old.
"After meeting the caregiver for the youngest children, I determined it was not a safe or appropriate home," she wrote. "I requested Child Protective Services research and identify a suitable alternative immediately. The children were soon placed with their brother, William, in one home. After the move, I immediately advocated for play therapy for all three children. ... The most lasting impact I provided in this case was consistency for the children, and the ability for them to be together as siblings should."
Dozens of stories, each unique in their tragedy and triumph, are online from last year's gallery here and many more are will be shared this month.
"CASA Advocates are essential because they provide valuable information and insight about each individual child, helping to ensure that they do not fall through the cracks or simply become another statistic in the often times generational cycle of abuse," Reise stated. "The collection of photos tells a story and illustrates the intimate relationship which occurs between Advocates and the children they serve."
*Top image: William, 10, Joshua, 5, and Juliette, 4, are featured in this year's CASA Gallery of Hope. Photo by Josh Huskin.