Our news is filled with heartbreaking stories of child abuse and neglect. These stories seem all the more tragic when abuse occurs at the hands of parents or caregivers, leaving the community asking how such a thing could have happened.

Often, the blame is placed on governmental agencies. Though it may be a relief to name a person or agency responsible, to do so oversimplifies the complex reasons children in our community continue to suffer. As we know from recent media coverage, the foster care system is overburdened. Budget cuts and staff reductions place additional strain on an agency already stretched to the limit.

Soon, public scrutiny will dissipate, and agency workers will return to their struggle to meet increasing needs with ever-dwindling resources. Meanwhile, children will still be at risk of abuse and neglect. Nothing will have changed, and all will seem well until the next tragedy occurs. Child abuse is a community problem that requires a community solution. The cycle will repeat itself until our community rises up to meet the challenge.

Everyday people can make a difference. How will you respond? You can help by becoming a foster parent or adoptive parent to children who need a safe home. You can help by becoming educated about the issues facing abused and neglected children and, in turn, educate others.

You can be part of the solution by becoming a CASA volunteer — a Court Appointed Special Advocate to speak up for abused and neglected children as they navigate the foster care system. CASA volunteers provide powerful voices to these children to help them reach safe, permanent homes and ensure their needs are being met.

There are many allies in the fight against child abuse and neglect in our community. However, we still need more caring individuals to step forward and make a commitment 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 CASA Association

Baton Rouge