For most people, if you ask what April evokes for them, the answer usually includes the images of spring: flowers blooming, the sun shining, the annual burning of the Flint Hills, occasional thunderstorms. For me, what’s at the forefront of my mind, is April is nationally recognized as Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month, so I think of pinwheels, blue ribbons, and the children our agency serves.
This year April holds a different meaning for me - a more personal connection. April 5, 2018 was, by far, the most difficult day in my entire 18 year tenure as a social worker in child welfare. This was the day a very special child in my life lost his battle with the life he received following an incident of severe child abuse. I met Leon when he was two months old. I was his advocate. My first meeting with him was in a hospital, and my final goodbye with him was in a hospital almost 10 years later. Leon was the victim of abusive head trauma at 2 months of age. The abuse he endured altered and greatly shortened his life, ultimately ending his life just a year ago. I spent the first four years of Leon’s life by his side, as his advocate, but he did much more for me than I could have ever done for him. He showed me resilience. He taught me patience. He allowed me to grow as an advocate. He prepared me for the unfairness of life and for how much we have to be prepared to fight, and most importantly, he encompassed and showed me the true meaning of unconditional love. Being Leon’s advocate and champion is the highlight of my career in child welfare. I will carry him in my heart for the rest of my life. I am forever grateful his family allowed me to remain in his life and allowed him to continue to show me what’s truly important in this life.
Leon’s injuries were 100% preventable. Child abuse is preventable. We must, as a society, be willing to face this reality head on. We must be willing to acknowledge it does happen in our community - whatever community that may be. We must be willing to talk about it, to call it out, to name it, to report it, and not leave that job for someone else. You might be someone else. Our children deserve our protection. Our parents deserve our support and empathy. Our community deserves to be filled with individuals willing to support the agencies doing the day-to-day work, to be a part of the solution by being involved in the sharing of prevention efforts, by lending a hand to those who are struggling, who stand up for those who are unable to speak for themselves.
As you go through the month of April, think of the families and children in your life. Pledge to do something to reach out to those who appear to be struggling, provide resources, and be a resource. If you suspect child abuse may be occurring, report it to 1-800-922-5330. You may be the only person in the position to help a child in need. Find an agency who works with families and children and volunteer, donate, or just educate yourself about the issues surrounding child abuse. Talk to other people in your life. The discussion may not be enjoyable but it is necessary in order to protect the most vulnerable of our community.
- Jennifer Anguiano, Director of CASA Core Services
As a long-time CASA volunteer, I have been asked on several occasions to speak to service clubs, church groups, etc., to generate interest in financial support of CASA and, hopefully, to recruit badly needed volunteers to serve the children of our area. A common reaction to my appeal is often, “Why do we need CASA? There are no abused and neglected children here.” Perhaps this position is, in part, the result of a lack of awareness because the abuse and/or neglect occurs in the privacy of the children’s home and because of privacy laws protecting minors, the public is not made aware of most cases that reach the courts.
Another reason for this problem is there is not a universally understood definition of what might constitute abuse. When most of us think of abuse, we tend to think of physical punishment: a parent striking the child. However, abuse can take on much more subtle forms.
As an example, as a CASA I have advocated for a case that involved a sibling set, all under the age of six, who were frequently left at home without any parental supervision or presence. The oldest sibling was left in charge. There was no nourishment provided so they made do with what they had, which amounted to the oldest sibling opening a beer and share with the others.
Another example of abuse and neglect I have seen in my time as a CASA, a foster parents’ home with two foster children along with two of their own children where the foster children were often given oatmeal in place of the normal diet the family’s own children were eating at the same table. And a final example, another sibling set, both under the age of 8, were adopted and brought from another country with the express purpose to be used as laborers on a farm, labor trafficking. When they did not perform to expectations, they were locked in a dark root cellar without food or drink. This was their normal, until one of the siblings escaped searching for help.
These examples are extreme but all were children that I personally have worked with and all are from within a few miles of Manhattan.