Advocates volunteer to make a difference in young lives

May 30, 2013 

You see the horrific stories in the news too often.

 • A father is charged with placing his 7-week-old daughter in a freezer for an hour to stop her from crying. She also has a broken ankle and shoulder bone.

 • Parents are charged in the death of their 10-month-old daughter; the autopsy shows three broken ribs, broken leg bones and a head injury.

 • A father is charged with injuring his 5-month-old daughter’s arm in a “compliance hold” because she wouldn’t stop crying.

 • A 3-year-old is killed by of blunt-force trauma injuries to his head and abdomen. His mom’s boyfriend is charged with murder.

 • A 2-year-old dies of blunt-force trauma to his head and abdomen (with too many injuries to be counted), a bruised rectum and a blood alcohol level of 0.12. His mom’s boyfriend is charged with murder and rape.

These are just the local stories that have made it into the news. For each of these tragic news stories, there are 50 to 75 more you never hear about.

This year, 250 abused and neglected children were removed from their parents. In Pierce County, an infant is forever in a vegetative state because his father tossed him in the air and he hit the ceiling. An infant girl needed extensive reconstructive surgery because her mother sold her to men for drug money. A father kept his children in dog cages, and they were tortured with soldering irons. And on and on.

I work at Pierce County Juvenile Court and provide advocates for abused and neglected children – some of them siblings to the county’s youngest murder victims. Two dependency courts run four days a week.

Most folks, when they think of juvenile court, think of young offenders – what we used to call delinquents. Those are the cases that get media attention when the media come our way.

I told my daughter once after a very busy media day at Remann Hall – the story was an animal cruelty case – that every time an animal is abused, the media are out in force. I am amazed at this: The child abuse and neglect cases we see almost every day go unnoticed. One case in 75 gets into the news.

“Well, Mom,” my daughter said, “I guess animals have better advocates than kids.”

Is that it? Our kids have wonderful advocates, just not the sort who send out press releases. Our advocates are volunteers – 250 amazing people who volunteer to be a child’s voice. They help the judges decide whether these children should be returned to their parents. They make sure these children’s needs are met. They make it possible for me to go on doing my job.

With the sheer numbers of children we see – not all of them with physical wounds, but certainly with wounded hearts – it’s a hard field to work in. It’s hard to see all the pain and sometimes just plain evil, right here in our county, where there are always about 1,200 children in foster care.

Our volunteers, called Court Appointed Special Advocates – CASAs – make it possible for me to keep on doing this work. I see the woes of the children and families we work with, but then I see these 250 truly good, truly selfless human beings who have made a decision to help.

Many tell me they read one of these tragic news stories and asked,” What can I do?” Some come to the CASA program and do something amazing, difficult and so important.

Sometimes I hear, “Oh, I don’t know how you can do that work. My heart would break.”

I am not saying everyone is suited for this work, but I do know that sitting home weeping helpless tears over these stories in the paper does not make any child safer. Getting up and deciding to walk with the children through the toughest time of their young lives does help.

In the middle of all the dark, painful waves of human suffering and tragedy that goes on every day, my CASA volunteers provide a real light to the children and to me.

Yet the state budget, as currently proposed, would decimate CASA programs around the state. This would be yet another tragic loss for the children who have suffered more than enough already.

Become a special advocate for children

Pierce County needs more CASA volunteers. To learn more, email Janice Bridges at jbridge@co.pierce.wa.us.

Janice Bridges is a supervisor at Pierce County’s dependency court who provides children with volunteer advocates.

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