April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and it has not gotten off to a good start.
The past few weeks have brought further reports of a foster-care crisis across Texas. At play are CPS workers’ heavy caseloads and low pay, as well as Texas’ shortage of placement options for children. In February, more children slept in CPS offices than at any other time since 2008.
In the midst of these reports, Dallas CASA, a non-profit organization of volunteer court-appointed special advocates for children who need foster care, held their annual Cherish the Children luncheon Tuesday at the Omni Dallas Hotel.
The luncheon honored Dallas philanthropist Caroline Rose Hunt, a longtime CASA supporter. HP resident Erin Pope acted as event chair.
Dallas CASA board of directors chair John Gibson called on guests at the luncheon to lend their support, either financially or by volunteering; a call-to-action that, in light of recent events, had some urgency.
Currently, Gibson said, Dallas CASA serves approximately half of the abused and neglected children in Dallas who cannot safely live at home. CASA’s goal is to serve all of them.
The recent death of a four-year-old girl in Grand Prairie who was under CPS supervision has raised the stakes in the conversation of how to fix Texas’ child care crisis.
It also resulted in the firing of two CPS employees and the resignation of another, at a time when Dallas CPS is already drastically understaffed.
It’s hard to know where to start in fixing what a federal judge has called a broken system, when children are faced with the options of being left in abusive and often life-threatening situations with their parents, or being taken out of these situations and then left stranded in the system.
Raising CPS employees’ wages might reduce their extreme turnover rate (57 percent, according to the Dallas Morning News), which would alleviate the issues of understaffing and overburdening. But raising wages for government employees means raising taxes, another complicated (necessary) discussion.
Implementing the reforms Judge Janis Jack called for last December has also been a struggle, although the state’s appeals against her ruling have so far been denied.
One simple response to all this: volunteer-based organizations like Dallas CASA are extremely important.
Dallas CASA, which has been advocating for children since 1979, offers a bright spot among the murky waters of government reform and funding battles.
Speakers maintained their message of hope at the luncheon, focusing on how they have been able to help children succeed.
Jenny Reynolds, president of Dallas CASA Children’s Council, said at the luncheon that she believes Dallas will be the first CASA organization to succeed in having an advocate for every child who needs one.
Dallas CASA holds regular volunteer information sessions. The next one will be held on April 22.
Watch the Dallas skyline next week on April 15 when, in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, it will be lit up blue.