Local organization guides children through the system
Thousands of children in the Houston area are neglected, abused or abandoned each day. For more than 22 years, Child Advocates Inc. has been a voice for the abused and neglected children of Houston by training volunteers who become involved in the lives of children placed in protective custody.
“Our vision is to help every abused child in Harris County who needs us,” says Marketing Manager Dena Miller. “Our challenge is to find the volunteers, resources, commitment and compassion that will get us there.”
In addition to serving as a person of stability for a child during a difficult time, these volunteers contact case workers, interview parents, seek educational and medical needs, and make recommendations in court proceedings regarding permanent placement for a child.
Court-appointed advocate volunteers’ overall goal is to assist in getting abused children out of the foster care system and into a healthy and loving family. Volunteers come from all types of careers, cultures and experiences, and include men and women who are at least 21 years of age. They average between two to five hours of casework per week, and more than 85 percent of these volunteers work full-time jobs.
“Child Advocates Inc. mobilizes court-appointed volunteers to break the vicious cycle of child abuse,” says Miller. “We speak for the abused children who are lost in the system and guide them into safe environments where they can thrive.”
Those wishing to become volunteers must register for an orientation, which is a one-hour session at the Child Advocates Inc. office, where they will receive information needed to get started. After attending the orientation, they will find out the requirements and steps necessary to becoming a court-appointed advocate volunteer. They will also begin their paperwork to enroll in Advocacy University (AU), which is a 30-hour training course offered five or six times a year.
As a nonprofit organization, Child Advocates Inc. holds fundraisers through foundations, special events, places of worship and planned or individual giving. There are several opportunities to contribute during the holiday season, such as Santa’s Wish List. This program makes the season a little brighter for children who are often away from home during this time of year. Something as simple as a stuffed animal or a winter jacket can help put a smile on a child’s face.
“In order to work with our kids, you have to go through extensive background checks,” says Miller. “With the Santa’s Wish List program, the general public can get involved.” Those interested can sponsor a child by shopping for items on a child’s wish list or holding a toy drive by collecting new, unwrapped toys and clothing at his or her office or school.
Child Advocates Inc. started with three individuals, a $5,000 budget and a kitchen as its headquarters. From helping 18 children its first year to assisting more than 1,500 abused children in 2005, the program has come a long way. To ensure that the organization will reach its goal of helping 1,750 children this year, they will need the community’s help. Those interested in donating to or volunteering with Child Advocates Inc. should call (713) 529-1396 or visit www.childadvocates.org.