SAN ANTONIO – April is the start of Child Abuse Awareness Month, and child abuse advocates are wasting no time in sounding the alarm and taking action.
The latest statistics point to the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating to children at risk of abuse and neglect. Child abuse and neglect numbers rose 18% in 2020 compared to 2019 in Bexar County, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The number of children killed in those homes has doubled as well.
For county movers and shakers, like Harvey Najim, it’s time to expand efforts here to control the crisis.
“If you take San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Houston, San Antonio has the highest number of child abuse cases in the state and one of the highest in the country,” Najim said.
Attacking the issue head on, Najim has put a million dollars toward the purchase of this new headquarters to train Child Advocates of San Antonio (CASA) volunteers — people trained to see at-risk kids who are removed from their homes because of abuse and/or neglect.
CASA volunteers work with the children, helping them through court procedures and into safer situations. There’s been a huge demand, but their rented location on W.W. White Road can handle the growing crowd of children and advocates.
CASA Executive Director & CEO Melissa Bauman says the COVID pandemic has been a breeding ground for abuse.
“With COVID and the families staying inside, more child abuse has risen, so this gift will really impact the service that CASA provides for these children,” she said.
To illustrate how big of an impact, the old CASA office on San Pedro was only large enough to train 30 volunteers per advocate class. With the Najim Foundation’s donation, they are now in a position to buy their new rented location in the old Holt Cat training facility, which is large enough to more than triple the training classes.
More advocates getting adequate training will translate into more at-risk kids getting the needed advocates. Prior to COVID and the new facility, CASA could only serve about 60% of the children going through relocation in the court system. Now it can handle 100% in the new location.
Najim said 20 minutes into the tour of the facility he was convinced he needed to move them in permanently.
“It’s a beautiful setting for the children, gives them plenty of room to grow. And I think that CASA does such an incredible job with these kids,” he said, adding that there is good security and an outdoor area for playscapes.
The Najim donation takes care of about two-thirds of the purchase, with another $420,000 needing to be raised. CASA hopes to close on the property on November first.