The stress of the COVID-19 crisis is taking its toll on families, as vulnerable children are isolated away from the watchful eye of teachers and daycares.
NBC 5 has been tracking a recent surge in child abuse ER visits and child welfare removals in Tarrant County.
CASA of Tarrant County plays a vital role in supporting and advocating for these children and they need help now more than ever. The organization needs additional volunteers, as 500 kids in the system are waiting for a special advocate right now.
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CEO Don Binnicker said his fear is that this need will only grow in the coming months.
“The biggest percentage of investigation reports that come in begin at schools when the teachers see kids and they have concerns at school," said “When those kids are not in school they’re obviously not being seen."
Hospitals, in some ways, are now on the front lines in noticing and reporting child abuse
“Hospitals are seeing some pretty severe cases. We’ve had three child fatalities so far since this began over the last month," said Binnicker. "The parents that are getting frustrated may have lost their job or got laid off and don’t have their finances coming in to support them. It causes more frustration and sometimes occasionally that comes out in how they care for their children."
In fact, he said there have been 93 removals in just the past four months in Tarrant County.
However, the pandemic hasn’t stopped the court-appointed special advocates from doing everything they can to support these children in the system.
“It’s an extra set of eyes and ears for the courts. We do things that no one else does,” said Binnicker.
Volunteers sent in photos of themselves going virtual by doing storytime with the kids over video chat, playing games, and checking in multiple times a week now -- as opposed to the required once a month in-person visit.
“Because we want to see physically, what do they look like? What is their demeanor? Where do they sleep, what is their home look like?” said Binnicker. “It’s not like we’re investigating the home, but we just want to make sure that the children have the things that they need. And feel comfortable there. Not being able to do that face-to-face has certainly changed."
The volunteers are even gathering toys and supplies for the children.
“Which I think is really a good sign. They’ve kind of stepped up their game. And it gives them more opportunities to find other ways to do things," said Binnicker.
However, with more kids coming through the pipeline, CASA said it needs more volunteers right now to keep up with the numbers and to keep children in need from falling through the cracks.
“They’re basically taken away from everything that they know in life. They’re taken from their family, their pets, their home. They need someone that sees them, connects with them and is able to be a person that they can depend on that they will know and be here,” said Binnicker. “Be that person. We want you to be that person if you have the heart to do that.”
The timing for this need is ideal as April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
On Friday, April 24, CASA is hosting a virtual volunteer info session for anyone who wants to get involved. Another session will be held virtually on April 30.
Volunteers are assigned to one case which could be a sibling group or an individual child. You will be subject to a background check and a CPS background check. There is also a training program before you begin.