Traveling Memorial to honor children who died because of child abuse

Released by CASA of East Texas:

LONGVIEW, TX  - A memorial to the 227 children who died of abuse and neglect in Texas in 2010 will be displayed 2:00 – 4:30 PM on Wednesday, April 13 at Gregg County Courthouse, 101 E Methvin Street as part of National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month in April.

The Memorial to Abused and Neglected Children was created by Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates®) to bring awareness about the epidemic of child abuse and neglect and children who die because they are not in safe, loving homes. The memorial is on a four-day, eight-stop tour through East Texas. The stop in Longview is sponsored by East Texas CASA.

The Memorial to Abused and Neglected Children was first displayed at the Texas Capitol for CASA Day at the Capitol on Feb. 2, 2011. The memorial has the names of the 227 children who died in Texas from abuse and neglect. Handprints and footprints were added as stark reminder that the deceased children are much more than a list of names.

More than 300 CASA volunteers, staff and board members made a solemn procession past the memorial at the Capitol and left tokens such as toys, pacifiers, books and shoes in remembrance of the children who died.

"Our children deserve to grow up in safe, loving homes where their physical, emotional and educational needs are met," said Texas CASA Chief Executive Officer Joe Gagen. "Unfortunately, the numbers tell us that isn't happening. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reported that last year, nearly 67,000 children were confirmed victims of abuse and neglect and nearly 43,000 entered into the legal care and custody of DFPS.

"That means that every eight minutes a child in Texas is abused or neglected. And with 227 children who died in 2010, that means a child died every other day from a preventable cause," Gagen said.

"It is our hope and prayer that people get the message that child abuse is occurring across the state and across the country and that each of us has a responsibility to do something about it," said Deena Shelton, executive director of East Texas CASA.

"In Gregg, Rusk and Upshur Counties, 645 children were confirmed as victims of abuse and neglect. About 487 children entered the foster care system," said Shelton.

Abuse and neglect take a devastating toll when unaddressed, Gagen said. Children who have been victimized often have trouble with alcohol and drug abuse, are frequently among the homeless and imprisoned and often drop out before completing high school.

"We are blessed in this community in that East Texas CASA is committed to training and supporting dedicated volunteers who speak up for children in the foster care system. CASA volunteers make sure that the children's best interests are represented in court and work to move them from foster care and into safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible.

"When a child is removed from his or her home because of evidence of abuse or neglect, it is a very scary and chaotic time for that youngster," said Shelton. "Imagine what it is like to be uprooted from everything you know: home, school, family, friends, and placed into a situation where everyone is a stranger. And once they enter the system, it isn't unusual for caseworkers, even lawyers to change and for them to move from one foster care placement to another. A CASA volunteer is often the one constant during the child's journey through foster care. We need more volunteers."