Silver Hawks join child abuse prevention effort


South Bend, Ind. Blue was the color of the night at Four Winds Field Friday -- in honor of April being Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The South Bend Silver Hawks teamed up the Indiana Dept. of Child Services, Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County and local chapters of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to host "Safe at Home Night."

The groups placed 701 pinwheels near the left outfield wall to represent the number of children currently in the St. Joseph County welfare system.

"That is a significantly high number," said Regan Harding, a supervisor for the Indiana Dept. Child Services. "We're always working every day to get that number down of course and that's what tonight's about -- promoting that awareness getting that community involved."

The groups distributed blue glow necklaces -- the national color for child abuse prevention -- and set up booths for the community to find information on how to report child abuse, how to become a foster parent, and how to get involved with volunteer opportunities.

"DCS get the rap that 'they're trying to take my kids' -- they're not," explained Rob Sparks, U93 morning show host and Roofsit organizer. "We want healthy families and we want that throughout the entire community. We want parents that enjoy being parents and we want kids who get to be kids the way kids are supposed to be kids."

The CASA groups of St. Joseph and Marshall County also passed out information at the park.

"It's our duty as CASA staff to recruit screen and train volunteers from the community and they represent children in all facets while they're in the foster care system," explained Brenda Matuszkiewicz, Exec. Director of the St. Joseph County CASA. "So they go out and meet with the children. They meet with providers involved -- teachers, therapists, the DCS, -- they prepare with reports to the court and they represent that child in court. They're essentially their voice."

But Matuszkiewicz says that only about one-third of the 701 children currently in the foster system have a CASA advocate. The rest are on a waiting list.

"The children in care, the numbers are so high in St. Joseph County," she said. "I think a lot of people would be surprised that number."

CASA is always looking for volunteers. Perspective volunteers can get involved by contacting casa@jjconline.org or through their phone number (574)233-CASA.

Community members are also encouraged to call the Dept. of Child Services with any concerns over the care or treatment of a child.

The Indiana Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-800-5556.

"Our agency is about helping, it's about putting families back together," Harding said. "And so to pick up that phone and just let us know that something might not be right here -- it's more important for us to go out and make that determination than to have the call come too late."


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