April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and there are a lot of opportunities to make a difference in the lives of children in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
Since the first of the month, blue and silver pinwheels have popped up at businesses and organizations as a reminder of the need to protect children in the community. The CAN Council
has several events planned this month to raise awareness of the need to create safe environments for children.
While there’s a special emphasis on advocacy and awareness in April, the CAN Council of the Great Lakes Bay Region works year-round to protect children from child abuse and neglect.
The CAN Council is looking for individuals willing to serve as advocates for children in the court system due to abuse or neglect. (Photo courtesy of the CAN Council)
CAN Council President and CEO Emily Yeager says it takes the entire community working together to be a force for hope for children in the region.
CAN Council supports child abuse prevention in Bay, Saginaw, Arenac and Huron counties. Yeager says the annual Pinwheel campaign represents the hope that every child experiences a healthy, connected, loving childhood.
Abby Schauman, the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program Director for the CAN Council, says there is always a need for volunteers.
Volunteers do everything from organizing donations and setting up events to selling tickets and serving as CANbassadors (who represent the CAN Council at outreach events, host facility tours, or engage in other efforts to raise awareness.)
No matter what volunteers are doing, it’s all part of the effort to advocate for child abuse prevention.
This month in particular, people can learn more about outreach, says Ryan Landrey, the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Saginaw CAN Council office.
He says there is always something going on, and volunteers are never turned away.
Schauman says the need is particularly great now for CASAs, who are specially trained volunteers who advocate for children in the court system due to abuse or neglect. Though they are highly trained, “CASAs are all volunteers. They come from all different walks of life. There’s no background that’s required, so they definitely bring a unique perspective from their own lives, and then from being a volunteer.”
Advocates are needed in Bay, Saginaw, and Arenac counties. Learn more on the CAN Council website.
'Whether they’re at school, whether they’re at home, or whether they’re in placement, the CASA will ask them whether there’s something they want the judge to know about.'
– Abby Schauman from the CAN Council
Schauman says CASA volunteers step into the gap for children. Each CASA volunteer advocates on behalf of one child or one family at a time. The volunteer stays with the case until the child or children are placed in a safe, permanent home.
“They’re a neutral party in the middle and they just advocate for the best interest of the children,” Schauman says.
After a comprehensive training process, CASA volunteers spend time visiting with a child. The visits take place every seven to 10 days, or the equivalent of about 20 hours a month. The CASA also appears in court to advocate for the child.
To read about one CASA volunteer, read this June 11, 2020 Route Bay City article
Children are referred to the program by any one of a handful of people who are involved with their case, including lawyers, judges, caseworkers, prosecutors, or the Child Advocacy Center.
“We get a referral and we take a look and see who our volunteers are that can see them,” she says.
The CASA then becomes the voice for the child.
“Whether they’re at school, whether they’re at home, or whether they’re in placement, the CASA will ask them whether there’s something they want the judge to know about, and then quarterly, when they go to court, the CASA will write a recommendation to the judge and help advocate.”
Schauman says the CASA also makes sure each child gets the services he or she needs. “They navigate which path they might need at a certain point in time. Each case is different.”
While CASAs are important to the agency and children, the CAN Council also needs volunteers in other areas. There is a project list on the CAN Council website
Right now, Landrey says the agency is looking for help getting "The Locker" organized and running. The Locker is a place where families and children can get shoes and other clothing. Currently, The Locker is available on a limited basis, but the plan is to eventually open it to the whole community, and not just children in CAN Council programs.
The CAN Council is seeking people to organize donations and get The Locker set up.