The loudest applause at a rally at the Capitol today for the prevention of child abuse and neglect was for two teenagers who know the child welfare system firsthand. As a child, Latisha was placed in twelve different foster homes. Her brother Adrian lived in twice as many. Today, they urged regular folks to get involved in caring for Colorado's abused and neglected kids. "We can't wait for tomorrow," Adrian said, "because when tomorrow comes, it's today again."
The rally was sponsored by a coalition called Our Kids, Your Kids. A collaboration between several agencies and nonprofits, its aim is to advocate for the more than 39,000 children currently in Colorado's system -- and prevent more from entering it.
"Growing up, I really had no stability," Adrian told the crowd. He was six years old when he entered the foster care system and in the following eight years, he lived in 24 different homes. He remembers having to wear clothes that were too big or too small, the badge of a foster child, and feeling as though it was pointless to try to make friends because he'd soon be moving to a new home -- and a new school.
But his story has a happy ending. Thanks especially to two CASA volunteers, whose role is to get to know a child and advocate for him in court, Adrian was able to accomplish things that many foster children don't. Now a senior in high school, he's president of his class and an excellent student. CASA, he said, "was my knight in shining armor." Simply by being there for him, those volunteers showed him what he called "genuine compassion, something I wasn't really acquainted with."
His older sister Latisha also credits CASA with helping her find her way. She entered into foster care at age eight and was adopted at twelve. But a few years later, her foster mom decided to give her up. Latisha was able to find another home and graduated with honors from high school. She's now a studying at the University of Colorado Denver to become a nurse.
Advocates for abused and neglected children don't need to be extraordinary, well-accomplished people, she said: "You just need somebody with a heart."
Several lawmakers also spoke at the rally, calling for legislation to strengthen the state's child welfare system. A number of bills this legislative session deal with child abuse, including one that would require the state to investigate cases of child near-fatalities. "Today is the day we recommit and make a promise to those kids who are no longer with us," said Senator Linda Newell, referring to children who have died as the result of abuse and neglect. And, she added, to those children "living in fear."
Shari Shink, the founder of the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center, gave an especially moving speech that included examples of how the public could help: by buying school supplies, mentoring troubled kids or mentoring young parents.
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"What will it take for us to say, 'Enough'?" she asked.
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