Severe child abuse cases spark call to action

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PHOENIX---There's a push to help the number of children who are victims of neglect and abuse in Arizona.

The past month has brought high profile cases like the one of 10-year-old Ame Deal, who died locked in a footlocker, and 6-year-old Jacob Gibson, who was beaten to death with a hanger. They are cases that have shaken even the most seasoned detectives.

"The economy has played a lot into it, people are losing their jobs, they're not able to provide for their children, they're turning to substances, and it's kind of the ripple effect," said Terry Tyner.

Tyner is a volunteer known as a CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate. She spends dozens of hours a month visiting with children who have been removed from living situations in which they've become the victim of neglect, or in some cases serious abuse.

Those children are assigned Child Protective Services' case managers, and in many cases attorneys, but often CASAs like Tyner are one of the only constants in their lives as they are shuffled between foster homes and courtrooms.
"CASAs are the only ones that start the case, and finish the case," said Tyner. "Case managers change, teachers change, parents aides change, therapists change."

Volunteers like Tyer then gather and submit detailed information about individual children to the court to aid a judge in making a decision about that child's placement.

The CASA program currently has close to 800 volunteers,  said outreach coordinator Renee Espinoza.

There are however, around 10,000 foster children currently under the State's care.

"Unfortunately people don't hear about this cases until something happens, something tragic in the news, but what a lot of people don't realize is that these things happen every day," said Espinoza.

"CASA is a program--it's something they can do in a way that's going to change a child's life," Espinoza said.

To learn more about the program, or to sign up to volunteer visit Arizona's Court Appointed Special Advocate's website.