According to Dallas CASA President/CEO Kathleen LaValle,
2020 has brought profound challenges to all our lives. But even as the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip on our world, Dallas CASA’s advocacy on behalf of abused and neglected children did not take a break.
It’s been people like Dallas CASA volunteer Janet who have shown the essential nature of our work. Janet completed training prior to the stay-at-home orders, and she was assigned her first case just as the pandemic closed schools and businesses. The case involved a two-year-old boy coming out of a coma after surgery to treat injuries received during a severe beating. While Dallas CASA in-person visits were suspended at the time due to COVID-19 risks, Janet sought special permission from the boy’s doctors and CASA to visit him in the hospital.
Since then, Janet has visited him every single day. She’s held his hand, stroked his hair and read to him. She celebrated with him as he continued his recovery, moving from the ICU to a regular room and then to rehabilitation. In four months, Janet has not left his side. “This child has opened my heart wide open,” Janet said. “The pandemic has been so stressful on everyone, but I feel so lucky and privileged to have a visit with him to look forward to everyday. He’s become part of who I am.”
The young boy will continue to need Janet’s support for the long road ahead as decisions are made about his future. Her advocacy will help ensure that he has a loving and protective family in a forever home.
Other volunteers have found creative and meaningful ways to check on and connect with the children they serve. One volunteer meets with his child via Zoom, where they discuss things of interest to the boy including beetles, dinosaurs and outer space. Other volunteers have directed families to critical resources for food and diapers and for distance learning technical support. Dallas CASA staff and volunteers attend virtual court hearings every day, speaking up on behalf of children who can’t speak for themselves.
One of the most incredible developments to witness during the pandemic has been record number of North Texans stepping up to be trained as child advocates. Our training staff quickly pivoted our 30 hours of training to live, online classes in March, and we have had to increase capacity in our classes to meet the demand for training every subsequent month. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dallas CASA has sworn in 202 volunteers.
Tragically, with schools out, reports of child abuse are down significantly, while the severity of reported injuries increases. When schools return, we expect a surge in the number of children coming into protective care. But Dallas CASA, thanks to hundreds of North Texans newly sworn in as advocates, is ready to meet that surge. By the end of 2019, we served more than 95% of children coming into care, and our goal is the same for 2020. We want all children to know they have an adult looking out for their needs as they navigate the child welfare system.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer advocate, the first step is to attend an online information session. More information is available here: dallascasa.org.
* Graphic and photo provided by Dallas CASA