The start of a new school year is an exciting time for most children. But for some, the beginning of school could reveal dark secrets when signs of abuse and/or neglect are noticed by teachers, staff or other parents.

“Children are subject to less contact with those outside their home over the summer, it’s not uncommon for reports of suspected abuse and neglect to spike at the start of the school year,” said Michelle Tarango, a CASA of Pinal County coordinator. “This means more children are being removed from their homes and placed into the foster care.”

As students return to school, the work of a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteer continues to be essential now more than ever.

“Our CASA volunteers are in frequent contact with teachers and school administrators to form a relationship to better understand the child’s unique strengths and challenges. These interactions with the child’s school, combined with the volunteer’s relationship with the child, empower our CASA volunteers to advocate in court for what the child needs to thrive academically,” said Tarango.

On any given day, there are over 13,500 children and youths in Arizona living in foster care, with relatives, group homes, shelters or residential treatment centers due to being removed from their parents’ care. There are over 1,110 children in Pinal County who do not have a CASA volunteer to advocate for their best interests.

“Being uprooted from their homes and families is scary for these children. We want to make sure they have a consistent, safe adult in their life, a CASA volunteer,” Tarango said. “For that reason, we need our community to take action and make sure these children’s voices are heard.”

Studies show children with a CASA volunteer receive more services that are critical to their well-being than children without an advocate, and those children are more likely to achieve educational success.

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. No specific background or training is needed to become a CASA volunteer. Anyone 21 years of age or older who can pass a thorough background check and complete 30 hours of free training is encouraged to apply.

If you would like to support the children, youth and families we serve as they navigate a new school year, learn how you can become a CASA volunteer by visiting www.CASAofPinalCounty.org or call 520-866-7076.

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Donna McBride is supervisor of the Pinal County Court Appointed Special Advocate Unit.

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