When seeing the Callaway County statistics of children affected by neglect and abuse, the numbers are difficult to comprehend and digest.
In 2020, 825 children were the subject of abuse and neglect hotline reports in Callaway and 189 children in the county were involved in the family court system due to substantiated child abuse and neglect.
Starting today, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month as the Heart of Missouri Court Appointed Special Advocates program continues to seek volunteers to champion children in dire circumstances.
Suzanne Guerrant has served as the Callaway County program director for Heart of Missouri CASA since 2013.
"I wish I didn't have this job," she said. "That would mean there wouldn't be any abused or neglected children. It's staggering when you look at the (Callaway) numbers and they keep going up. That's the reason we need to have more advocates."
Guerrant currently has 35 active CASA volunteers in Callaway for 67 children in care.
"You don't have to have a special degree in any area," Guerrant said. "It is hard work, and it is a commitment. My big push is that if you have love for kids and want to be a difference in their lives you need to be a CASA."
Fulton Mayor Lowe Cannell will proclaim April as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month and Friday as CASA Child Advocate Day during a ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday in the Fulton City Hall council chambers.
Heart of Missouri CASA is also conducting a yard-sign campaign this month to bring awareness to its volunteer program and mission. Individuals can have signs dropped off and installed in their yards April 1-7 and then picked up April 30-May 3.
"CASA volunteers possess a commitment to improving children's lives, a willingness to learn, and an open mind towards life experiences different from their own," Heart of Missouri CASA Executive Director Kelly Hill said in a news release. "We'll train and supervise them to be effective voices in court.
"Our volunteers come from every walk of life. They range in age from 21-81 and represent various educational and ethnic backgrounds. They are ordinary individuals who rise to the extraordinary by making a difference in the life of a child."
To learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer in Callaway or receiving a yard sign to promote the organization this month, contact Guerrant at 573-442-4670 (extension 5).
Friday's proclamation ceremony will be livestreamed on Facebook @heartofmocasa.
For more on Heart of Missouri CASA, visit www.homcasa.org.