The tragedy of child abuse in our community is often examined in the media. Child abuse seems all the more heartbreaking when it occurs at the hands of a parent or caregiver, leaving the community asking how such a thing can happen.

Often the blame is placed on government agencies. Though it may be a relief to name a person or agency as responsible, to do so vastly oversimplifies the complex reasons children in our community continue to suffer abuse and neglect. Those of us who work in the foster-care system know that it is a system overburdened and under-resourced, struggling to meet the demands placed upon it. Recent budget cuts and staff reductions are placing additional strain on an agency already stretched to the limit.

Agency officials struggle to meet increasing needs with ever-dwindling resources. Meanwhile, children are at risk; they still will suffer unimaginable abuse and neglect. Nothing will have changed, and all will seem well until the next tragedy occurs. The cycle will repeat itself until the community comes forward to meet the challenge.

You can help by becoming a foster or adoptive parent to children who need a safe home. You can help by becoming educated about the true reasons behind child abuse and, in turn, educate others.

You can help by becoming a Capital Area Court Appointed Special Advocate Association volunteer, a court-appointed special advocate to speak up for abused and neglected children in court and social services proceedings. CASA provides an opportunity for the community to become part of the solution. Since 1992, more than 900 CASA volunteers have provided a voice in court for more than 1,700 abused and neglected children in East Baton Rouge Parish.

There are many allies in the fight to stop child abuse and neglect in our community, agencies that provide mentoring, counseling, adequate housing, outreach to young families, food and job skills training. There are neighbors and family members who step in to provide child care, transportation or simply lend an ear to listen. Still, we need more people to step forward and make a commitment, small or large, to ensure our most vulnerable citizens and our most valuable assets — our children — are safe from harm. We cannot wait for the next child to be hurt before we take action.

Liz Betz, executive director

Capital Area Court Appointed

Special Advocates Association

Baton Rouge