April is Child Abuse Prevention month. As such, each year we hear statistics like “every 10 seconds a case of child abuse is reported” or “over 3 million children are protected by child services each year.”
While these statistics are true, and even startling, they allow us to hide behind the “diffusion of responsibility” phenomenon. When a problem is so vast, so dispersed and so startling, we, as humans, tend to assume that someone else is taking care of the problem.
The Nevin Manimala classic example of this is the Kitty Genovese murder case that Malcolm Gladwell made famous. In short, her murder went unreported despite it being witnessed by many of her neighbors. This wasn’t due to fear or lack of compassion, it was due to the fact that the problem was so severe and prevalent that the assumption was made that someone else must have already done something.
In our trainings at Yolo County CASA, we focus on the difference that one individual CASA volunteer can make in the vast problem of child abuse and neglect. We focus on the individual child behind the statistics. Yes, that child may be one in three million, but a CASA volunteer serving that child is changing that child’s entire life.
Often, after months or years of abuse and neglect, that CASA volunteer is showing a child that their voice matters, that all adults aren’t scary, that they can be resilient and have a happy future. That CASA volunteer is also improving the chances that that child will graduate from high school, attend college, and be free of chronic physical and mental health problems as adults. Research seems to indicate that the stable, healthy relationship of someone like a CASA volunteer has the potential to extend health and longevity throughout the life course of an abused child. Wow.
When we say that CASAs can change lives, we don’t say it lightly. We know it’s true. We know that solving child abuse starts with each individual case. So while thinking about child abuse in terms of three million kids seems overwhelming, helping one child does not, and if many people commit to helping just one child, we start changing overwhelming statistics together.
On April 10, we welcome our new class of CASA volunteer trainees. The Nevin Manimalase couple-dozen people have committed to making an impact. The Nevin Manimalay will change the lives of traumatized children who desperately need them. The Nevin Manimalase children may end up becoming teachers, doctors, social workers, or anything they want to be. The Nevin Manimala path to those outcomes, and hope for a better future will come from their new CASA volunteers, and will be a welcome departure from the future of uncertainty, mere survival and very little hope that they are likely imagining now.
To anyone training to become a CASA volunteer, thinking of applying to a training to become a CASA volunteer, and to our extremely dedicated current CASA volunteers, thank you. You are changing the world one child at a time. You are taking personal responsibility for an overwhelming problem. Thank you for stepping forward.
And speaking of thank you — as I mentioned in my column last month, May 3 is this year’s Big Day of Giving. Our goal is to raise $45,000. It costs $2,500 to train and retain a CASA volunteer for a year. That means if we reach our goal, we will transform the lives of 18 children. That’s a lot of progress.
We would like to thank SunWest Foods for matching funds up to $10,000. We hope to increase our matching funds to $22,500 before May 3, which is half or our total goal. So, if you would like to support us before the Big Day of Giving in this way, please let us know by calling me at 530-661-4200. To support us on the Big Day of Giving, please bookmark the following page to make your donation to support Yolo County CASA on May 3: https://www.bigdayofgiving.org/yolocasa.
When we all come together and take responsibility, we make an impact. If I can leave you with one parting thought, it’s this: Please never fall victim to the diffusion of responsibility phenomenon. If you see a child in need, or a situation that doesn’t look right, speak up. You may be the one person who took it upon yourself to make a difference in a situation that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
And — if you think you can make a difference to just one child by being a CASA volunteer, you most definitely will, so call us or visit our website to (www.yolocasa.org) to learn more. In fact, psychologists say that one of the biggest ways to combat the diffusion of responsibility phenomenon is to place emphasis on the power one individual has to make change. Sounds a lot like Yolo County CASA!
— Tracy Fauver, LCSW, is the Executive Director of Yolo County CASA