By Curtis Michaels
Roswell Daily Record
When a child grows up in an abusive home, they don’t know how to stop it. They’ve never felt safe, so they’ve never had a foundation upon which to build confidence. All of their influences either tell them that they are being treated normally, or that they just need to roll with the punches. Most of those influences don’t even know that the child is being abused.
When the abuse is discovered, and The Children, Youth and Families Department removes the child from the home, that child has no way of understanding what is happening. Many of them expect the new adults in their lives to behave the only way they’ve ever seen adults act. Court is intimidating for them, and the concepts of appropriate behavior hardly exist for them. These children have every reason to be scared to their very core.
This is where CASA makes a difference.
“Most of the cases that come to CASA today are based in drug abuse, primarily methamphetamines. That’s one of the biggest problems in Roswell today, drugs as they relate to the abuse of children. So much of our story revolves around the legal problems, and the use of drugs, and what it means to these kids,” said Bill Jones, a CASA volunteer and the volunteer liaison to the CASA board of directors.
Judge Alvin Jones started the Court Appointed Special Advocates program in Chaves County in 1987.
“I trained as a volunteer in 1987, the first year for CASA. I was asked to run the program as I began my second year. I’ve been with CASA since,” said Carrie-Leigh Cloutier, Executive Director of the Chaves County CASA Program.
Over the 28 years CASA has been serving Chaves County, the volunteers have been the backbone of the program.
“It’s not your ordinary volunteer work. It’s the hardest volunteer work you’ll ever do, but it’s the most rewarding too,” said Cloutier
“The volunteers rely on the CASA staff to get their job done. They are a wonderful sounding board and help us to stay on track in difficult cases. If I’m having a tough time with a case, I’ll have a talk with Carrie-Leigh and she helps me to keep focused and keep my priorities straight,” said Jones.
Jones offered an example of how intense volunteering for CASA can be.
“There were 6 boys and me doing a round table session. We were talking about goals. Where did they see themselves in one year, and in five years. One boy said ‘in five years I want to be in prison and be the leader of my own gang.’ I was taken aback. As it turned out he never made it to five years. He was killed in a violent situation.”
Not all of the cases end badly. But they do all start badly.
“A few years back, we had a family with three children. The two boys were with dad and the girl was with mom. CYFD got a call about dad and they found that he was living in an apartment, using the kids social security money to buy drugs. They had no running water, and their electricity came from an extension cord plugged in at the neighbors apartment. Naturally the boys were picked up.
“A bit later mom was turned in and the situation was even worse. I’ve never seen so many cockroaches in my life! The girl was picked up too.
“The children have since been adopted by three different families, and I’m happy to say that they are all doing well,” said Jones.
CASA is all about getting the kids ok, and they are not afraid to be innovative about it
“We believe in being social entrepreneurs, the thing that keeps me going is the ability to be creative in programming for kids, working outside the box, doing things outside of bureaucratic channels that make a difference. The courthouse dogs are one of those,” said Cloutier.
“You can put a dog in with the kids and it settles them down and it opens their mouth. These dogs work with the kids and seem to empathize with them,” said Jones.
Recently CASA picked up an old program.
“Esperanza House did safe house interviews, kids who have been abused, especially sexually abused; they would try to ascertain if the children were really in jeopardy, were they really abused sexually. When Esperanza House closed some of the people at CASA trained and we now have the Children’s advocacy center in Roswell and in Artesia,” said Jones.
“Eddy County has a terrific CASA program, and we are not running the CASA program in Artesia. We are only doing the Children’s Advocacy Center in Artesia,” said Cloutier.
The work they do is not cheap. Even with all their volunteers CASA needed a lot of resources to help the more than 1400 children reported to CYFD last year, as well as the hundreds of children referred to them via the Juvenile Probation program.
First American Bank has been supporting Chaves County CASA with the Winter Wonderland Auction for 11 years now. Bank president Shane Hall and his son Cade were the auctioneers for this year’s event, and Larry Hobson was the emcee.
Every year around Halloween, different businesses and individuals donate Christmas decorations including wreaths, displays and Christmas trees to be on display at the bank’s office at 111 E. fifth street until the auction, which is held just before Thanksgiving. All the money goes to the Chaves County CASA program.
“Every year Winter Wonderland has grown. This year we raised $230,000, and each year we have new people and new businesses getting involved,” said Hall.
While this is the largest annual fund raising event in Roswell, it doesn’t cover all of CASA’s needs.
“Casa will use every bit of this money and more due to their needs to facilitate their programs. They will continue to need to fundraise and to rely on the support of the community,” said Hall.
For the children who make it and for the children who don’t, thanks to CASA we can know that Roswell is improving the community, one child at a time.
By Curtis Michaels