Tuesday, April 8, 2014

National Child Abuse Awareness Month

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. Even though I think every month should be child abuse awareness month, it's fitting that this Thursday, April 10, I will be sworn in as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care in New York. I will take an oath to:

"...watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. (I will) stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, (I) will be the one constant adult presence in their lives."

It's a daunting task and one that I will take very seriously. The training has been superb through the Mental Health Association of Westchester County, New York that has the contract to oversee the CASA program. Even though I was a foster mother once and my adopted son is now 20-years-old, there was/is much for me to learn. I'm also glad to report that a lot has changed since a 19-pound, malnourished, filthy two-year-old boy was dropped on my doorstep. The case worker said: "Here ya go," as he handed him off and the little guy promptly crawled over and ate the cat's food.

I knew I was in for a ride. 

With all its ups and downs as we wound our way through the Family Court system that existed in the late 1990's and early 2000's we learned one thing: Somebody, anybody has to be an advocate for the child in care. There were no CASAs then and I could have sorely used one. Suffice it to say, we survived, he thrived, and we adopted this beautiful boy in 2002 when he was seven-years-old.

A funny thing happened on the way to the conclusion, however. In late 1996, I was diagnosed with
Stage IVB cancer and Lupus. After my initial biopsy, I suffered severe complications and ended up with an emergency tracheotomy and weeks of hospitalization. The first thing I painfully wrote to communicate with my husband while I was wired and strapped down in intensive care was: "What about Brett? Lawyer?" 

In my most fragile state, I could only think about the one in my orbit who was even more fragile - my foster son who'd only been living with us a little over a year. I was afraid he would be taken away. It wasn't until my husband made the proper telephone calls and assured me that they could not take him because I was ill did I relax into the two diseases that were threatening to kill me and vow to fight like a cougar to get back to all three of my boys - my husband, my biological son, and my foster son.

And what a blessing he was! Not afraid to scramble up on me in my wounded state and hug and kiss me even though I looked very scary, this delightful yet formerly-neglected boy came to heal me as I would heal him. Eighteen years later, our bond is very strong and I believe we were brought together for reasons only a higher being can know. You can read much more about our story in my book DYING TO LIVE: Running backwards through cancer, Lupus, and chronic illness.

Finally, according to Jane LeMond-Alvarez of The Children's Wall of Tears, three million cases of child abuse are reported each year in the United States and at least three children die every day at the hands of an abuser.

As a CASA, I will be working to heal the scars of children who live through the abuse or neglect; who put one foot in front of the other each day as they survive precariously in uncertain homes waiting for their parents to get better or to be released for adoption.

I will be eminently proud to help carry them in my arms and speak volumes on their behalf. 

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