Volunteers stepping up to help the state's most vulnerable child - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Volunteers stepping up to help the state's most vulnerable children

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Many of South Carolina's abused and neglected children have advocates who are working on their behalf.

In Richland County the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) sometimes have to go into tough situations to make sure the children stay safe.

"People with a passion for children" is how volunteers describe themselves.

The court appointed special advocates in Richland County said they have one main goal and that's to put the children first."

"You really have to love kids to do this because it's not an easy job," said CASA volunteer Sharlene Williams.

The decision is not easy when an advocate or guardian has to take children out of their home.

"DSS' mission is to unify the family," said Sharon Walker with Richland County CASA. "Our mission is what's in the best interest of children."

Sharlene and her husband James have been volunteers for a total of 10 years together.

"I'm happy to know that I'm available for them and help them out in some kind of way because everyone needs someone," said CASA volunteer James Williams.

Most of these children, who are abused and neglected, are suffering in silence.

"A lot of the time, the guardians are the only constant that child has," Sharlene said.

Last month, according to CASA, 34 children in Richland County were found to be in unfit environments.

Eleven of them physically abused, 10 neglected and 3 sexually abused.

About 76 percent are African-American.

"I had one case in particular where a child was removed from their home, it was siblings, they were removed from the home because of abuse - physical, sexual abuse and neglect," said Sharlene.

Walker said a parent may realize they don't have the best circumstances and wants the best for their child but they don't know how to go about it.

That's when these advocates can step in.

"I'm always looking at the bigger picture," Sharlene said. "Eventually this child is going to be an adult and then how are they going to function in society as an adult if they don't get the help they need now."

They are in particular need of more male volunteers. For more on how to help, visit www.rccasa.org.

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