“Child abuse has not stopped during COVID-19 and neither have we,” said Sandy Barber, Executive Director of the Fannin County Children’s Center. “Like everyone else, we have had to make adjustments to the way we do things.” Counseling and court hearings took a brief pause when the quarantine started while everyone figured out how to utilize video conferencing. Forensic interviews at the CAC have continued in-person, with various safety precautions. CASA advocates have been doing virtual visits with children in foster care.
At last check, 12 children from Fannin County who are in foster care do not have a CASA volunteer advocate. Leaders at the Children’s Center are also preparing for an influx of referrals and removals when schools go back in session.
“School personnel are the biggest source of reports to the child abuse hotline. When school stopped early, it was no surprise that the number of calls to the hotline dropped significantly,” said Barber. “With unemployment on the rise and families under more stress, we are worried that there will be more cases of physical abuse. Also, many children who are victims of sexual abuse have been stuck at home with their abusers during this time.”
“We are bracing ourselves for an increase in demand for our services when schools go back in session,” continued Barber. “The more volunteers we can get trained this summer, the more prepared we will be for that potential.”
CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, is one of several programs offered by the Fannin County Children’s Center for the benefit of abused and neglected children. CASA is seeking adult volunteers who can complete training and pass background checks to be appointed by the 336th District Court to serve as Guardian ad Litem for children in foster care.
In that role, CASA volunteers regularly visit their assigned child or sibling group and gather information from parents, other family, teachers, medical personnel, therapists and others in order to make recommendations to the court on what will be in the child’s best interest. They prepare court reports and testify at court hearings too. Many volunteers successfully manage to volunteer while also working full time and spending time with their families. Currently, advocacy work and meetings are being done by various video apps, phone calls and emails. Court hearings are happening by Zoom.
The next training sessions for CASA volunteers will start June 16. Training classes will be in the evenings on June 16, 18, 23 and 25 as well as all day on Saturday, June 20. Participants will have a choice of attending training in person or by Zoom. Participants will also be reading and completing activities on their own time. At least 2 hours of court room observation will also be required.
Apply online at www.fanninccc.org. For questions, contact Amanda McDonald at (903) 583-4339 x240.