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Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 2:21pm
El Paso, TX (KDBC) — April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month. More than 4,000 cases of alleged child abuse or neglect were reported in 2013, but only 1,250 of those cases were confirmed after being investigated, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, program in El Paso believes part of the reason for that low number is because there aren't enough people to investigate child abuse claims.
CASA volunteers represent about 80-percent of the foster children in El Paso who have suffered child abuse or neglect.
"Our mission is to grow to where we have 100% advocates to serve 100% of the children that are in El Paso's foster care," said Arianne Marcee, Community Outreach Coordinator with CASA of El Paso.
She said CASA volunteers visit with the foster child, check their progress, and attends all of their court hearings. Volunteers ensure kids don't get lost in the legal system, which Marcee said can happen with attorneys are busy with multiple clients, or when Child Protective Services workers are overwhelmed with several investigations.
"We have an overburdened system. They (CASA volunteers) can get details for the specific case that others may not have the time to do," said Marcee.
Bobby Velarde has been a CASA volunteer in El Paso for six months. He said he started volunteering because he noticed there were a lot of gaps in the system that abused kids fell into.
Bobby has a full-time job, but said he devotes at least eight hours a week to helping the 17-year-old boy he advocates for.
"You create a bond because that child sees you as a friend," said Bobby, "Are they having problems in school? Are they having problems in their foster homes? Or is there something they want to say that sometimes ether they're embarrassed of saying, or they're afraid of saying because they've been abused."
To become a CASA volunteer, you must be at least 21 years old, pass a background check, undergo 30 hours of intensive training, and be willing to commit to being a court appointed special advocate for at least 18 months to two years.
A CASA volunteer training class begins at the end of April.
For more information, go to http://www.casaofelpaso.com/index.cfm.
CASA of El Paso also accepts monetary donations, and 100-percent of the proceeds stay in El Paso.