A Southwest Colorado child advocacy organization says it’s seeing an increase in divorces and child abuse cases as families struggle to cope during the pandemic. That’s why it’s launching a fundraising and volunteer recruitment drive during Child Abuse Awareness Month in April. You’re watching the Local News Network, brought to you by Whole Health Family Medicine and Edgemont Timbers. I’m Wendy Graham Settle. The number of children who are suffering through their parents’ divorce or have been removed from the home as a result of abuse and neglect is on the rise in Southwest Colorado. 4 the Children, an umbrella organization that oversees the local Court Appointed Special Advocates program, the Safe Exchange and Supervised Visitation program, and child advocacy centers in Southwest Colorado estimates that its caseload will increase by more than 50% over last year. At the same time, the organization is expecting a $50,000 shortfall in its budget, as a result of recent state funding cuts. That’s why it’s launching the Planting Hope Campaign during Child Abuse Awareness Month in April with a series of virtual and in-person events to raise awareness, raise funds and recruit volunteers. 4 the Children was founded in 2017 to provide a nonprofit structure for three volunteer programs: the Safe Exchange program, the Court Appointed Advocacy program, and Child Advocacy Centers in the 6th and 22nd districts. The Safe Exchange program allows divorcing parents to safely visit or drop off their child at For the Children headquarters to avoid seeing or fighting with their warring spouse.
We are seeing an increase in divorces and we’re seeing an increase in the need for our exchange services here in this facility, and that’s when a family is going through a high-conflict custody case and the kids still need to move safely between house to house, and, you know, they don’t need to be dealing with their parents’ divorce and their parents’ struggles. So we provide that safe space. They get dropped off here and 15 minutes later, their other parent comes and picks them up and takes them off. So they remember this as you know, it’s a difficult time for kids when parents are going through a divorce, it’s a difficult time for everybody. So we like to think that we’re here kind of just to soften the blow and lighten the load and make it a little bit easier for the kids.
Volunteers in the Safe Exchange and visitation program provides supervision, while parents drop off, pick up, or visit their kids on site. Volunteers in the Court Appointed Special Advocate program serve as a representative for the child’s interest when he or she is removed from the home as a result of abuse and neglect. 4 the Children board president Margo Lee has served as a CASA volunteer for more than 30 years, first in Maricopa County, Arizona, and now in Montezuma County.
We are for the child. We are for the child. Social services, Department of Human Services whatever you want, whatever the organization is called, it looks at the whole family and says, “Okay, what services do they need? What services do they need? CASA focuses on that child and the best interests of that child, to make sure that they’re taken care of, that there’s a safe placement, that everything that that child needs happens.
CASA volunteers stay with the child throughout the court case as they are shuffled through the social services system, and sometimes volunteers can be at odds with caseworkers or mental health therapists if they do not believe decisions are in the best interest of the child.
So CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocate is just to ensure that that child is taken care of and is not lost in the system, that it doesn’t get lost in the foster care system and ages out at age 18 and has nowhere to go. That’s our goal is to ensure that every child that comes into our purview has a permanent and safe home.
The Child Advocacy Centers in the 6th and 22nd districts provide support for children who have suffered from sexual abuse or assault. Child Protective Services and Mercy Regional Medical Center reported 54 cases of sexual abuse and assault during 2019 in La Plata County alone, but 4 the Children estimates that more than a hundred child assaults go unreported each year. Hein said the Planting Hope campaign has set a fundraising goal of $50,000 this year to handle the rise in cases and to recruit more volunteers. Lee admits it’s difficult work because of the trauma that children suffer, but she says it’s worth it.
But the more I got into it, the more you see that you can’t make a difference for every child, but you can for one, and that’s what means the most is that you can make a difference in a child’s life. No matter whatever you do from then on has left that impression.
To make a donation, see a calendar of events, or to learn more about becoming a volunteer, visit 4thechild.org. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network, serving Durango, Montezuma County, Telluride, Pagosa Springs, and Farmington, New Mexico. I’m Wendy Graham Settle.