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C.A.S.A. program seeks volunteers

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

PARKERSBURG — April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and a local agency is renewing a call for more volunteers.

The Court Appointed Special Advocate program, dubbed C.A.S.A., provides children who have experienced abuse or neglect an advocate who protects their interests in legal proceedings.

More than 300 children are in the program, which increased by 77 just in the first months of the new year, said Executive Director Margaret Burdette. In comparison, last year’s number was 44, she said.

“We’ve increased 77 new cases in just four months,” Burdette said.

The reason is related to the pandemic, she said.

Children have returned to in-person classes in schools where they are seen by teachers and others, Burdette said. Signs of abuse can be visible, Burdette said.

C.A.S.A. volunteers in most cases also have been unable to meet face-to-face with the children, she said.

“We were not seeing children face-to-face in the home for a good eight or nine months,” she said.

The lack of contact has raised stress levels and anxiety of the children, some of whom feared they may have been abandoned or forgotten, Burdette said. They are not forgotten, she said.

“We actually build bonds with them,” Burdette said.

Volunteers endeavored to make contact with the children, usually by virtual means and other times by meeting with them outside their homes separated by several feet, she said.

While the workload has always been heavy, she said. While the need is greater for volunteers as the pandemic begins to wind down, besides the issues of financial and emotional distress associated with the pandemic, there remains problems related to drug abuse or opioid addiction and the effect it has on the child, Burdette said.

About 175 cases involved drugs and opioids, she said.

C.A.S.A., which serves Wood and Wirt counties, has about 18 volunteers. Burdette would like from 25 to 30.

“I need volunteers, bad,” Burdette said.

Burdette also would like to see more men as volunteers as the older boys in the program need a make figure, she said.

Volunteers are fully trained through C.A.S.A. Anyone interested can contact the agency at 304 422-3390 or go online at woodcountycasa.org, she said.

Volunteers are involved about five hours a month, Burdette said.

The C.A.S.A. program was established in 1996. Burdette has been the program director for 21 years.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.

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