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.