TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Following an extended summer break due to COVID-19, students are headed back to classrooms to face the number one reporters of child abuse: teachers.
“We know that there are more children facing these horrific situations and so now that school is back open, we expect our numbers to increase even more dramatically,” said Mary Jo Burgess, Executive Director and CEO of CASA for Kids of East Texas.
The organization works with the state court system to provide trained volunteers who act as a guardian for children who are making their way through the foster and adoption systems.
“Part of what we do is we are the eyes and the ears of the court,” said Burgess. “It’s really important that we connect with the children, we see how they’re doing in their foster placements.”
With in-person interactions turning digital due to the pandemic, Burgess explained their jobs became even more important than ever before.
“So just like we’re doing right now, we’ve used Zoom and FaceTime and Skype and other methods,” said Burgess. “We’re even getting back to writing letters. Some of our volunteers will send their kids care packages.”
According to Burgess, there are dozens of trained volunteers serving children in Smith County and surrounding areas, but the demand for more is always present.
“We have 200 of the most amazing dedicated volunteer advocates,” said Burgess. “They are appointed to a child. They build a relationship with that child. They find out what their needs are.”
Over the summer of 2020, several more volunteers were sworn in as official court-appointed advocates through Zoom. And while some the pageantry of the ceremony was lost, Burgess explained the mission for the children is not.
“People think, ‘I don’t have time.’ You do.”
There are two upcoming virtual information sessions for CASA for Kids of East Texas.
The first is happening Tuesday, August 25, at 5:30 p.m. The second is set for Tuesday, September 9, at noon.
Click here for more information on how you can register.