Advocates for abused children plan awareness event

Carolyn Poston, Ida Orr, Sandra Townsend, Pat Shelton, Jean Vance, Kitty Grubbs, Diane Tallie and Clyde Young are all volunteers for Clay County Child Advocates for Abused and Neglected Children. (Photo by Donna Summerall, DTL)
Staff Writer

Who speaks in Clay County Youth Court for children removed from abusive and neglectful circumstances? A group of volunteers committed to the well being of children, who through no fault of their own, are no longer with their parents. The Clay County Child Advocates for Abused and Neglected Children become their voice.

"Many people don't even know that we are here," Jean Vance of the advocacy group said. "We want to change that. We are planning an Awareness Banquet in April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month. We want to raise awareness for the smallest victims and allow everyone to meet us and give information about what we do for these children. We want to become more visible in the community. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit agency."

According to Vance, children are removed from alleged abusive or neglectful situations and are turned over to Child Protective Services. Most never come to Youth Court, as a family member, more often than not, comes forward to give the child refuge with them.

"But some go into the court system," Vance said. "That is where we come in. The child is assigned a case worker, who will be their advocate throughout their time until their case is closed. CPS has a lot of turnover and the child may have several CPS caseworks, but we want to bring some stability to their lives. We stay with them through the entire process. We listen to them. When they come before the judge, we make recommendations. He then takes it under consideration."

Vance said CPS is under strict guidelines that they are bound to follow. The Child Advocates are not bound by the same rules while dealing with a child. It gives them a different perspective on what might be best for a particular child.
"We are all volunteers," Vance said. "So what we do is in the best interest of the child. The presiding judge expects us to have an opinion and he wants to hear what we have to say."

The advocates strive to be respectful of CPS and know it is the first line of defense for the child.

"We work together as a team," Kitty Grubbs, said. "We may have information that CPS does not have, or they may have information we don't have. We all want what is best for the children."

Grubbs said most people cannot imagine what an overwhelming job the people at CPS do every day.

"Our purpose is to be the eyes and ears for the court," Vance said. "Children need stability. They need a permanent, safe, loving environment. We want them to have that. We can always use volunteers. People who have a deep love and concern for our children."

According to Vance, the advocates have approximately 20 children a year that they work with. Some years there are more and sometimes less.

"Sometimes it’s simply a matter of a very young parent, not knowing what to do," Vance said. "We work with them to help them to learn about parenting and the responsibility that comes with having a child."