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Child advocates combat hidden epidemic


Lisa Galovich calls child abuse a "hidden epidemic."

As director of the Columbia County Amani Center, a non-profit abuse assessment center, Galovich sees some of the worst, most extreme cases. Kathryn Bourn, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Kids, sees another group, but also must confront similar marks of abuse and neglect in the children she and the advocates serve.

"Every five days in our country, the equivalent of a classroom full of children dies of abuse and neglect," Bourn said. "Since they die one by one, in communities across the country, they don't get the attention the way school shootings do."

April has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Along with other community members, Galovich and Bourn will gather at the Columbia County Courthouse plaza square in St. Helens at noon April 17 to stand against child abuse and advocate for its victims.

In a typical year, 266 children are victims of abuse and neglect in Columbia County while 250 children have an open dependency case in court because their parents cannot safely care for them, Bourn and Galovich said.

The most common types of abuse Bourn sees is from a parent's or guardian's drug and alcohol abuse. Next in line is neglect, then abuse resulting from domestic violence. Less common are physical, sexual and mental abuse, but she sees these as well. Galovich sees them more often.

Recently, Bourn said, there has been a rise children disclosing sexual abuse.

"The research says a child who is being abused in one form is also being abused in another form," Galovich said.

But the poor economy has taken its toll on both the Amani Center and CASA, eating away at the number of staff both organization are able to employ, while the number of calls and referrals increases. Galovich and Bourn say they are not able to serve all of the county's child victims. For the Amani Center, each assessment of a child costs approximately $1,800 and consumes 30 to 50 hours of staff time.

Bourn relies heavily on her volunteer advocates, who are often the only consistent adult in the children's lives as they guide them through the court process in dependency cases. These volunteers, in turn, rely on trained CASA staff to help them navigate trickier aspects of advocacy. It's important to continue with the resources they have, Bourn said.

She has worked in the dependency world one way or another for several decades and knows how easy it is for kids in dependency cases or abuse situations to "fall through the cracks."

"As a community we can do better for our kids," she said.

The community is invited to join Galovich and Bourn April 17 at the Courthouse Plaza Square.