Back-to-school season brings uptick in child abuse, neglect reports
HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - It’s back-to-school season, which can be a fun and exciting time for children, but it is also a time when some kids need help.
Once children are surrounded again by teachers and other adults at school, the Department of Social Services sees increased calls for people reporting child abuse and neglect. While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the last few years when children usually head back to the classroom, organizations like Blue Ridge CASA for Children historically see this trend every year.
“This is something that most people in child welfare kind of brace themselves for,” Sherri McKinney-Frantz, the CEO of Blue Ridge CASA for Children, said. “Oftentimes when kids are off for the summer, they don’t have those consistent adults in their life. About 70% of the cases that are referred to [the Department of Social Services] are for neglect, so far, far more than for child abuse.”
The uptick in reports and cases this time of year does not mean there is more child abuse and neglect happening, McKinney-Frantz said, just that more are being reported.
That means Blue Ridge CASA for Children will need more CASA volunteers, which means Court Appointed Special Advocate. Many abused or neglected children will enter foster care while they wait for a judge to determine where they will safely and permanently live. A CASA helps advocate for their appointed child during this process.
“Each volunteer has one case, on occasion two cases. A case can be multiple children,” McKinney-Frantz said. “Right now, we’re serving right around 100 children and our goal this fiscal year is to serve 140 kids, so that’s a really big jump.”
Blue Ridge CASA for Children is preparing now for its fall course and is looking for 30 people to step up to be CASAs. Volunteers will need to complete 30 hours of training to start, but McKinney-Frantz said there is ongoing training through your time with the organization. She said the training will help volunteers understand the system and trauma.
These children often are seeing several social workers, therapists, and other people that are constantly changing, but McKinney-Frantz said that Blue Ridge CASA for Children wants to provide one consistent adult to these kids.
“The CASA’s job is to know the ins and outs of this child’s life and most importantly, to build a relationship with this child, so they can really advocate and inform the judge of what’s going on with this child from all aspects,” she said.
A CASA will be involved with many people in their child’s life, like teachers, social workers, parents, and family members, review educational and medical records and simply get to know their child.
Anyone over age 21 can be a CASA, and no legal background or prior education is required, but CASAs do need to pass a background check. Blue Ridge CASA for Children asks for volunteers to make at least a two-year commitment, as the average case lasts about 18 months.
Blue Ridge CASA for Children currently serves the areas of Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Staunton, Augusta County, Waynesboro, Lexington, Rockbridge County, and Buena Vista.
For more information on Blue Ridge CASA for Children or if you are interested in volunteering, click here.
To contact the Virginia Department of Social Services, call (804) 786-8536. To reach child protective services in West Virginia, call (800) 352-6513.
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