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We all play a role

Court Appointed Special Advocate program is one way to help prevent child abuse

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a chance for us to recognise the role we all play in protecting children and strengthening families in our communties.

Nearly 9,000 children from across Iowa were abused and neglected in 2018, according to a child welfare report from the Department of Human Services. Fully engaging all elements of our society is one of the most effective ways we can lessen the likelihood of future cases and create an environment in which our families and children can thrive. Churches, civic clubs, social organizations, and neighborhood groups can strengthen protective factors by sponsoring educational sessions on child development, offering parent mentoring, engaging with substance abuse treatment programs, and hosting events to build connections and raise awareness of services. But to truly be effective, volunteers and commitment from individuals are key.

Cheryl Schmitz, a volunteer with the North Iowa Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, agrees and has reason to do so.

“All members in a community have a responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of others,” she said. “In my experiences, they all do just that when given the chance.”

Schmitz, of Fort Dodge, has been with CASA since December of 2016. Prior to becoming a volunteer advocate, she was a social worker for the state of Iowa for more than 25 years. During that time, she had cases in which CASAs were assigned to the children of the families she worked with and those experiences not only piqued her interest in volunteering, but also gave her an appreciation for how we can all work together for better outcomes.

It’s true. Everyone can contribute to and participate in strengthening families, whether by donating time and resources to programs and initiatives or simply by sharing resource information and raising awareness. In the case of the CASA program, people are given an unique volunteer opportunity to directly impact the life of a child in foster care who has been abused or neglected and help ensure it doesn’t happen again.

CASAs meet regularly with the child, their parents, and other adults active in the child’s life to get a full understanding of the situation. They help ensure the child receives the services they require for their physical, social, and educational development. And their recommendations help the courts make fully informed decisions so the child can exit the foster care system to a safe and permanent home, free of abuse.

If you are interested in making a difference in the life of a vulnerable child and believe you have the time and compassion to give, please don’t hesitate to contact me, Crystal Engstrom, Program Coordinator for North Iowa CASA, at 866-923-1088. People can also visit www.casaiowa.org to learn more.

Crystal Engstrom is program coordinator for the North Iowa Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

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