Spring has sprung in Southwest Texas which heralds in a season of growth and new beginnings. This is a very appropriate theme for us at Child Advocates of Fort Bend where we are growing our offerings to children, families, volunteers and the community in every service line – in our CASA Program, our Children’s Advocacy Center, Community Engagement, Prevention and Volunteer Training. If you have been reading our newsletters over the past few months, you have been hearing about our new beginnings in every department with new hires, new trauma-focused advocacy, new collaborations with community organizations, and new roles and positions for our staff and leadership team. We are building on the learnings from having served children who have been abused and neglected for 31 years by amplifying our best practices, intensifying our trauma-focus across the entire agency, and adding advocacy and clinical depth and bench to our staff. Our goal is to ensure that every child receives the highest level of advocacy, clinical care, and wrap-around services so they can thrive while in foster care, recover and heal, and achieve the most effective, sustained positive outcomes as a result of the time they are engaged with CAFB in the child welfare system.
The month of May is both National Foster Care Month and National Mental Health Month. Since we opened our doors in 1991, more than 1000 CASA Volunteers have transformed the lives of over 3500 children in foster care – children who otherwise would likely have fallen through the cracks suffering further abuse, dropping out of school, becoming homeless or experiencing severe mental health conditions and even incarceration. And for over two decades, our Children’s Advocacy Center has provided forensic interviews, clinical family advocacy, criminal court advocacy, sexual assault exam referrals, therapy, and mental health services to over 18,000 children, helping them recover emotionally and psychologically so they are able to enjoy a healthy future. Please join us in celebrating the more than 20,500 children served by CAFB over these years. We could not have done this work without the support of our wonderful volunteers, donors, staff, and partners. Thank you for all you do to ensure that we can sustain our advocacy services for all children in foster care and expand clinical services to all children who have been sexually or physically abused so that children’s lives can be transformed.
For the Children’s Sake,
Ruthanne Mefford, CEO
Keeping you informed on our mission:
Strengthen the child’s voice, Heal the hurt, and Break the cycle of abuse and neglect for children in Fort Bend and surrounding counties.
We’re almost halfway through 2022 and expanding more than ever so we can meet the needs of our children and families. Here, we will give you an overview of our organization to show you who we are. In the following months, we will introduce you in greater detail to each position on the team.
A child’s journey from the trauma of sexual or physical abuse to healing can be a long and complicated one. For children in Fort Bend County who have gone through these experiences, the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is with them for each step they take on that courageous path.
From the moment they are identified as a potential victim either through the bravery of the child telling, or the compassion of someone concerned for a child’s safety, the CAC becomes an integral part of that journey.
MDT Coordinators work and collaborates with our partner representatives who are involved in the case, to ensure that the child’s best interest is in the primary focus of each agency who plays a role in the child’s safety and future.
The child is then brought in for a forensic interview. The children and families are greeted by trained volunteers, who make this first stop a warm and nurturing environment, helping to ease their anxieties as they await their interview. This forensic interview gives them the opportunity to share their experiences in a safe place.
Clinical Family Advocates then meet with the parents to provide them a safe place to share how their child’s disclosure has impacted their families. They help give the parents the strength and encouragement they need to support their child during this stressful time.
Their journey continues with trauma trained therapists who work with children to help them understand their feelings and learn the skills they need to heal from their abuse.
For many children their journey ends when their abuser is held accountable in the criminal justice system. Our Criminal Court Advocates support those children and families as they courageously once again find their voices.
The CAC and it’s partners travel the journey collectively to achieve healing for the child.
Meet the team!
Children’s Advocacy Center Team members seated are Heather Rashid and Fiona Remko. Back rown L to R are: Susan Richardson, Lorraine Cruz, Bethany Garay, Lizbeth Ocampo, Kandece Money, Amanda Gentry, Maxi Schultz, Brenda Zavala, Jamie Benitez, Sasha Soileau, Lindamarie Olson, Maggie McDougle, Melissa Johnson, Natatia Colligan, Heather Cody; Front Row: Courtney James and Kristy Gutierrez.
Camera shy are: Renee Johnson, Ophelia Mok and Claudia Sorto
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS GALA
Grab your top hat, ballgown or whatever thematic costume you prefer and join us on May 7th for our “Through the Looking Glass Gala” at the Sugar Land Marriott Town Square.
When the doors open at 6pm guests will enter a Wonderland filled bright colors, fantastic themed décor, roaming characters and performers, live music and so much more. The evening will delight with an extensive silent auction, raffle for your choice of diamond loop earrings or $1,000 gift card, wine & restaurant pulls and an amazing live auction full of one-of-a-kind trips, dinner experiences and more.
It’s not too late to join us!
Individual seats are still available for $150.
Even if you can’t make it, be sure to register for the online auction to bid on some of the incredible items https://CAFB22.givesmart.com.
If you’d like to participate in the live auction, but can’t join us in person, please let Tarina know and we can help you.
LAW ENFORCEMENT APPRECIATION
Written by Courtney James
When we think about law enforcement, we often think about them “putting away the bad guy”. However, oftentimes, the part we don’t see is their interactions with victims. Their compassionate care of child victims and their families is evident by the way they speak to and about children on their case, never forgetting that a child deserves safety and to live carefree. It’s not uncommon for the detectives in these cases to spend time talking to children about what they talk to like to do for fun or what they are looking forward to, just to help put that child at ease. They go above and beyond to ensure that a child’s voice is heard.
Here at Child Advocates of Fort Bend, we have the privilege of working with 13 different law enforcement agencies that investigate cases involving child sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect in Fort Bend, Waller, and Austin counites. The detectives who come into our building are some of the most intelligent and caring individuals in their field. Their job can be extremely challenging due to the age of victims, dynamics of abuse, secondary trauma, etc. They meet these challenges head on and strive to bring justice and healing for the families that come into the Children’s Advocacy Center. As a Clinical Family Advocate, I check-in with the detectives to discuss dynamics of cases while collaborating on services that may be helpful and appropriate for the family in need. Through these discussions, I am exposed to the amount of work and dedication that comes from each detective. They are determined to bring justice to the victim(s) and ensure that their job is done to the best of their ability. It is an honor to work alongside each detective that dedicates their work to children who are victims of abuse.
At our Volunteer Banquet in April, we were able to honor Lora Bradshaw as partner of the year. Lora is a Fort Bend ISD Police Department Investigator and works cases that come to our Children’s Advocacy Center. This is what she had to say about her career, “Being a Child Abuse Investigator is not just a job to me, it is my calling. I am so thankful to work with all the dedicated and committed partners at CAFB. I believe it is through this partnership we find not only justice for victims but hope and healing for them.”
CAFB & Child Abuse Prevention Month
Written by Lindsey Castellanos
April was a whirlwind of blue ribbons and pinwheels! Just what we like at Child Advocates of Fort Bend. We kicked it off strong with Light of Hope which featured a new partnership with the City of Richmond and six of our partners to support child abuse prevention. It was wonderful to see so many families sharing an evening of fun.
Fort Bend Exchange Club showed the community what the staggering number of abuse cases looks like in their visual display of the 2,496 white stakes, representing the number of children CAFB served in 2021, placed at the Historic Richmond Courthouse and along Highway 90-A where Stafford and Missouri City meet. Judge KP George, District Attorney Brian Middleton, County Attorney Bridgette Smith-Lawson, Mayor Cecil Willis of Stafford and Mayor Robin Elackatt of Missouri City gave remarks the dedication ceremonies along with Child Advocates of Fort Bend board member, Nancy Olson, and staff.
In order to better understand how to prevent child sexual abuse, we hosted three Darkness to Light trainings to 65 members of our community to help educate and equip adults to become safer for children. As adults, it is always our responsibility to be aware of red flags and intervene in those situations on behalf of children. Darkness to Light gives a simple framework to bring attention to and stop a red flag behavior.
Darkness to Light’s Three Steps:
- Describe the Behavior.
- Set a limit.
- Move on.
And we can’t forget one of our most valuable assets in keeping children safe, so we handed out 2500 child abuse prevention packs to students in 5 area elementary schools. Internet safety continues to be a top issue across our region. Parents and children alike need to be aware of the tricks online predators can play in order to get children to give out personal information or engage in sexual abuse activity.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports a 97.5% INCREASE in the number of Online Enticement reports from 2019 to 2020. Online Enticement involves an individual communicating with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction. This type of victimization takes place across every platform; social media (Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok, etc.), messaging apps (Kik, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Omegle, etc.) and gaming platforms (Discord, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, etc.)
This type of abuse has no discrimination based on education, social economic status, race, religion, or culture. There are some simple things we can do to better protect kids. Check out the resources below from trusted sites on talking to children about internet use. Let’s Break the Cycle of Child Abuse!
Parent of children under 12: https://www.missingkids.org/netsmartz
Parents of children over 12 or have access to social media, games, messenger apps: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/articles/how-to-talk-to-teens-about-dealing-with-online-predators
THANK YOU doesn’t seem significant enough to express the gratitude we feel towards all of our Gala Auction donors. Each year you all amaze us with your giving hearts and unbelievable gifted items. So whether you donated a bottle of wine, piece of jewelry, a fun toy for a child or pet, something fresh for the home, travel getwaway, cash or something amazing for the live auction – we appreciate you!
This photo is only a sampling of the incredible items you will see both in person at the Gala on May 7th at the Sugar Land Marriott and online at our bidding site https://CAFB22.givesmart.com.
Welcome New Board Members!
We’ve recently added 3 exceptional new Board of Director members! Please help us welcome Narmin Kermally, Apurva Parikh and Carlos Perez, shown (L to R) below.
Narmin Kermally is a longtime Sugar Land resident and Child Advocates of Fort Bend supporter. Her professional experience includes working for Memorial Hermann Memorial City as a Postpartum nurse for six years and Memorial Hermann Southwest as a Postpartum and Antepartum nurse for nine years. Currently she is the owner of a Franchise travel agency and a Franchisee for Dream Vacations providing vacation planning and one of a kind customer service. She feels that her practical and compassionate attitude, in addition to her experience in multidisciplinary collaborative teamwork would contribute as a board member in the areas of fundraising and new donor acquisitions.
Apurva Parikh has spent almost 20 years as a Sales, Marketing and Business Development professional. The last 10 years have been spent building a Commercial Real Estate Development company, MP Development, that focuses on Hospitality Management/Development, multifamily development and mixed-use land development in Houston and Austin. His personal passions are giving back to serve the youth and families of Fort Bend County by doing what he can to help break the cycle of abuse; the cultural arts and preserving the City’s wonderful traditions; but also helping with its future growth and economic development.
Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carlos Perez has lived in the greater Houston area since 1986 and is a proud alumnus of the University of Houston. Professionally, he spent most of his time as a Real Estate Broker and master negotiations expert with Affinity Realty LLC. He is very committed to giving back to his community, both through his professional service and personal volunteer efforts. He is a past president of the Exchange Club of Sugar Land, past treasurer of the After-Hours Exchange Club of Fort Bend, and past district president of the Exchange Club TX-LA Gulf Coast District.
NEEDS & OPPORTUNITIES
Written by Jen Brown
This month we need a few things:
- Our CAC is in need of adult coloring books, 12 count coloring pencils and things for teenagers. We often have teens and older youth come in and don’t have much in the way of earbuds, electronics, activities, etc… Our wish list has a few ideas for you to choose from!!
- Our CASA program is looking for a variety of things to help in a few different areas. First, we are needing sensory items to help children cope with trauma they have experienced. Studies are showing that “sensory items” help greatly in this area….
Are you looking for a way to honor or memorialize someone you love?
You can purchase a paver in our front walkway and have it engraved with your personalized message! (We love reading them as we walk in each day.) Also available is to Name a Room in honor or memory of someone!
For more information, please contact Lisa Moore at LMoore@cafb.org.