Investing in the future 

If you've ever had the fleeting thought that child abuse doesn't affect you, then you may want to consider some eye-opening statistics: Children who suffer abuse or neglect are 59 percent more likely to become juvenile delinquents, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as adults and 30 percent more likely to become violent criminals, according to the National Institute of Justice.

What's more, abused and neglected children become involved in criminal activity earlier, commit more offenses and are more likely to become repeat offenders. These children also have more learning difficulties, higher rates of unemployment, hold lower-paying jobs and experience higher rates of suicide attempts.

Additionally, the costs associated with child abuse are staggering. The National Institute of Justice estimates that the effects of child abuse cost this country approximately $56 billion dollars annually. The human suffering and loss are immeasurably greater.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, there were 13,800 cases of confirmed child abuse and neglect in 2006 in Oklahoma. In a typical month, 189 abused and neglected children enter the court system in Oklahoma County alone.

Child abuse happens all around us and, even though you may not recognize it, you do feel the effects. What can you do about it? Plenty. Donate your time or resources to help some of the wonderful groups who are serving these children. 

Citizens Caring for Children, based in Edmond, trains mentors to help abused and neglected children know that someone truly cares about them. They also operate a resource center providing new clothing, school supplies, books and more to children living in foster care. 

Another group, Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, trains lawyers and non-lawyers alike to help these same children. The attorneys represent children in the courts and the non-attorneys are trained to do preliminary home studies for the Department of Human Services. The Post Adjudication Review Board consists of concerned citizens who meet once a month to review court files and make recommendations to the court representing the best interests of the children. 

In addition to these programs, the Court Appointed Special Advocates Program (CASA) trains volunteers to advocate for these most vulnerable of children. The goal of CASA is to help the children receive the services they need while in the court system and to find a safe and permanent home as quickly as possible.

As a CASA volunteer, you take on a number of roles: You are a fact-finder for the juvenile court judge; a powerful voice for the child; a "guardian angel" for a child who might otherwise get lost in an overburdened system.

Each volunteer has a professional case manager who provides them the support they need. Truly, two heads are better than one.

Now the decision is entirely up to you. But, if everyone waits for someone else to help the children, then the grim reality is that nobody will.

Alex S. Corbitt Sr. is a volunteer recruiter for CASA of Oklahoma County.

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