Last year, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services reported almost 5,000 confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Bexar County and more than 1,500 children were removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. Recent news coverage zeroed in on issues within the state protective system, more specifically constant leadership, staffing, and legislation changes have caused inconsistency that, in turn, affect the care neglected and abused children receive.

CPS caseworkers in Bexar County are overburdened as they struggle with twice the national recommended maximum caseloads. High staff turnover rates – 28% of CPS caseworkers have been there less than one year and 37% less than three years – significantly limit one-on-one child contact for the children in State protective custody. Such restricted contact decreases the ability to identify and procure necessary health, education, and social interventions.

Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) provides these children with a voice and ensures that they receive the help and services necessary to begin the healing process. By researching the most effective options for each child and regularly communicating with social services, family members, and educational, mental health, and medical professionals, CASA advocates strive to do more than anyone else involved in these cases.

“CASA is the most impactful child welfare agency because they are able to affect positive change and give the abused and neglected children of Bexar County someone to provide them hope,” said Children’s Court Associate Judge Richard Garcia.

This past year, CASA was able to provide services to 2,103 children. To educate the community on the epidemic of child abuse and neglect and recruit volunteers to help these children, CASA is hosting the Gallery of Hope Gala on Nov. 10, 2016 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

The Gallery of Hope exhibit is a visual narrative of the hope and healing CASA provides abused and neglected children in Bexar County. The extensive collection of photos illustrates the intimate relationships built between CASA advocates and children and how that connection can change children’s situations from ones of fear and danger to ones filled with hope and happiness.

The intent for this project is to create awareness and educate others on the significance and impact CASA advocate have on the lives of abused children. The exhibit aims to highlight the vital work CASA advocates are doing on behalf of the children of Bexar County, and inspire the community to come together and work toward the end goal of putting an end to the epidemic of child abuse.

This year’s Gallery of Hope gala will include aerial performances by Aerial Horizon and artwork made by CASA children guided by artist Kari Englehardt. The adolescents who created the nest artwork demonstrate the complexities of being in the foster system while also finding hope for a better future.

Nest artwork created under the guidance of artist Kari Englehardt.
Nest artwork created under the guidance of artist Kari Englehardt. Credit: Courtesy of CASA

“This nest expresses how I think of my life,” said Lilyana, age 13. “I’ve gone through a lot, it’s like a big mess of everything. But then as you look at it all, it’s amazing. Life may get hard, but it’s a blessing to be here.”

Photographers for the Gallery of Hope include: Sara Blanco, Leon Dacbert, Ginger Diaz, Alex Hilmy, Josh Huskin, Natalia King, Jess Mewborne, Lauren Rathbun, Amanda Rodriguez, and Joe Raymond Vega.

Tickets start at $150 and include hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, entertainment, a live and silent auction, as well the unveiling of the 2017 Gallery of Hope exhibit. Proceeds go directly to the daily work that CASA does for Bexar County foster children.

For more information on the Gallery of Hope or to become a CASA volunteer and be the difference in the life of an abused and neglected child, click here.

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Kim Fox

Kim Fox is the grants manager at Child Advocates San Antonio and a clinical mental health counseling graduate student at Texas State University.