This spring silver and blue pinwheels will be sparkling and whirling all around town as a reminder you could be a hero to a child in your community. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The source of the pinwheels is Children’s Trust. For 30 years, Children’s Trust has been the premier prevention agency in the region striving “to prevent child abuse and neglect and provide continuous support for children through investigation and court proceedings.” The organization’s ultimate goal is to “help make kids safer and adults better parents through education.”
The first Virginia Child Advocacy Center opened in Bristol, Virginia in 1998. There are now 15 centers in Virginia with one satellite center. Their multidisciplinary team approach brings together all the professionals and agencies needed to offer comprehensive services: law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy.
ColorsVA magazine visited Children’s Trust of Roanoke Valley to interview staff and volunteers about their vital work. Emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, physical abuse and/or sexual abuse are all reasons a child from infancy to age 21, may need rescuing. Child abuse is often a factor in:
- Permanent physical injury and/or death
- Developmental delays (physical, emotional and intellectual)
- Chronic health problems
- Low self-esteem
- Poor relationships
- Substance abuse
- Mental illness
- Criminal behavior
A better future for abused children begins through the work of CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates. Nearly 125 children were rescued from harmful environments last year. “We don’t remove children from their parents,” says CASA Director Judy Jacobsen. In abusive situations, Department of Social Services (DSS) intervenes first; the case is taken to court where a judge determines whether the child/children should be removed from their home. “We come in after that process to determine, working with everyone who has contact with that child, what is the best outcome going forward.” Some children eventually are able to return home. In 2016, 118 abused children found safe, permanent homes.
CASA has 44 volunteer advocates from the community and needs more. The group is actively recruiting now before training a new group next month. Asked why she donates her time to being a CASA advocate, Corinna Dunn said, “It’s in my heart. I’m a mom. It’s got to be in your heart or you can’t do this work.” Her first case this year involves three children under 12 who have had DSS involvement since 2015. Their mother is a victim of domestic abuse with a relapsing substance abuse history.
Carla Terry, another mom, has been a CASA advocate since 2008. Dunn recruited Terry, a fellow church and choir member. Terry also influenced fellow Coca-Cola employee Summer Holland to volunteer in 2010. Holland has worked with children since her early teens and hopes to find a job in the Juvenile Justice system when she graduates from Liberty University’s paralegal and criminal studies programs. These three advocates came to the program with personal passion for children rather than specific professional backgrounds. They eagerly recommend the advocate program to others. “If you think you might be interested, don’t be intimidated,” says Terry. “You’ll make a difference! You’ll take a child out of sadness.”
CASA advocates do not have to possess special degrees or certificates to become part of the program. All they need is a love for children and passion for justice for them. Dunn says her 35 hours of wide-ranging training got her ready and confident. CASA advocate training will take place in April. “I love the training. I learned so much and felt so well prepared,” Holland adds. Never have they felt personal fear while handling a case or feared retaliation. That’s due to the strong support system that exists. In addition, CASA volunteers agree resources available to them are so plentiful they never feel alone. The volunteers and Jacobsen share mutual adoration. “She’s our go-to person,” says Terry. They also give credit for the success of CASA to Kristen Thadlock-Bell, program director, and to lawyer Holly Peters, program supervisor. Janice Dinkins Davidson serves as director of Children’s Trust of Roanoke Valley. Davidson announced the organization has just added a fifth program to their services. That program, she says, provides a complete galaxy of child/family emotional support.
Including CASA the following resources are available:
Children First – Speak Up – Last year 3,348 elementary school children learned how to protect their bodies from sexual abuse; Stewards of Children – 90 adults – were taught how to protect children.
Children’s Advocacy Centers in the Roanoke and New River Valleys are child-centered, community-based facilities where children who have suffered abuse can talk freely and be comforted during the investigation process to reduce their trauma. In 2016 376 children were provided these services.
Conflict Resolution Center provides the community with innovative, affordable, cooperative ways to resolve differences and transform relationships through mediation. Another 244 families received services through the center, learning how to negotiate for custody, visitation and child support.
Healthy Families offers screening and in-depth assessment of expectant new parents. The staff to connect them to parenting support that will make them capable of less stressful parenting, raising healthy secure children within resilient, self-sufficient families. Healthy Families Program Director can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children’s Trust is located in the Jefferson Center, 540 Luck Avenue, Suite 308, Roanoke, (540) 344-3579. To find the nearest Children’s Trust of Virginia center, visit http://www.cacva.org/what-is/find-a-virginia-cac/.