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Volunteers sworn in to be voice for abused, neglected children
JEFFERSON COUNTY - by Lauren Huet
Nine Southeast Texans are new advocates for some of the youngest victims of abuse and neglect. They are Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA's. The new CASA volunteers want to ensure every child has a voice in the courtroom.
A video taken in Beaumont last month of a woman slapping her eight-month-old baby shocked Southeast Texans. A grand jury indicted the woman for injury to a child and her young girl is in CPS custody.
"Oh yes, I think we've all seen that on TV, a time or two, and that's just one case. If you look around there are so many more cases out there that we see in the news," said Diana Craigen.
That's why Tuesday, Craigen took the oath to serve children's best interests as a CASA.
"A CASA volunteer represents the child in the courtroom, their true feelings what they feel," said Vicki Savarino, a CASA case supervisor. "And we are the eyes and ears of the judge, as he calls us."
Child Protective Services says physical abuse is getting more serious, and victims are getting younger. CASA says it's seeing a growing number of child abuse and neglect cases.
"A lot of drug related cases, a lot of accident related cases, violence, domestic violence," said Savarino.
"We've had a lot of cases that seems like, too, where children are malnourished and their parents aren't providing food for them," said 279th Civil District Court Judge Randy Shelton. "And then we've had a lot of children who have been subject to physical abuse, sometimes there's sexual abuse."
Judge Shelton swore in nine new CASA volunteers today, including himself. The Jefferson County judge completed the CASA training along with the other eight volunteers.
"I got to see what the CASA's see when they're with the children," said Judge Shelton, "and get a little bit more about what they're thinking. So, I think that will make me a better judge."
The volunteers finished 33 hours of training so they can combat abuse and make a difference.
"I have grandchildren of my own and I'm looking forward to having more grandchildren that I can watch out for, that I can love," said new volunteer Sharon Gazaway.
CASA says about 75 percent of children who are abused and neglected and need a volunteer have one. The organization says it needs more volunteers so it can reach 100 percent of children in need.
"They all need protection, they all need love," said Craigen. "They need to know there's someone out there that can care for them."