January 16, 2008 Edition

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Every child needs a safe place

Dear God,

I am eight years old. My Dad is in jail for using and selling drugs. My Momma is sick a lot and stays in bed most of the day. When momma feels real bad, she yells and hits me. She feels better at night and goes out with her friends. I get scared when she leaves us alone. Sometimes she brings her friends home, and they drink beer all night.

One night while momma was asleep, one of her friends played "grown-up" games with me. I didn't like the games because he hurt me. Momma said the hurt would go away.

My sister is six years old and coughs a lot. My brother is almost two years old and cries most of the time. Momma says it's because he's a brat. I try to keep him dry, but sometimes we don't have diapers.

My sister and I don't go to school much. The school nurse has sent us home because sister is sick and we both had head lice. I like school, but I have to take care of my momma and sister and brother. We don't have much to eat and sometimes we don't have heat or lights because we move so much.

God, can you help us?

Not the usual child's prayer, but for some children this is their life. Hunger, neglect, fear and abuse should never be concerns for any child, but some face these conditions every day.

I am a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer for displaced children. I have three cases involving nine children. All nine children, from six to 17 years, have experienced some of the neglect or abuse described in this prayer.

These children have been removed from their homes. Some are in foster and relative care. Some are in special behavioral facilities. Some are not where they should be for their needs.

One case involving a sibling group of three has been in the court system since 2003. Imagine not having a permanent placement for over four years! Another case involves a sibling group of two. They are in separate placements and have been moved several times since being displaced two and a half years ago. The third case involves four children who are in different placements in different counties.

All these children came from uneducated families that were at or below the poverty level. Does the family background make a difference? Absolutely! The first five years of a child's life is forming his personality, social, behavior and knowledge skills. These children come into the public school system without any skills. Some of the children have been abused so long that they have become the predators. How terrible is that?

These children are part of our future. They are innocent victims who didn't get the chance to get out of a bad family situation. What can we do for them? We can ask our politicians for stiffer penalties for people who abuse or neglect their children. We can ask the judges and lawyers for children to be displaced for shorter time periods. We can ask our schools to help these children get the best educational services. We can support the caseworkers of child and family services and CASA volunteers.

If you are aware of or witness a child neglect/abuse situation, please contact the Lawrence County Department of Health and Human Services at 886-2408 or the Arkansas Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 1-800-482-5964.

Not everyone can be a foster parent. It takes a good heart, lots of patience and unconditional love to care for displaced children. If you think you have these qualities, please consider becoming a foster parent. These children need you. If you are experiencing "empty nest" and wish you had a child to care for, maybe you could adopt an older child.

If fostering or adopting is not suitable for you, perhaps you would like to become a CASA volunteer. I guarantee you that serving these children will enrich your life. If none of the above is suitable for your lifestyle, then please support The Children's Shelter. Doesn't every child need a "safe place?"

Judy Turnbull
Walnut Ridge
CASA Advocate
The Children's Shelter Board President

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