(Editor's note: The author, Julia Rankin Bloodworth, is the executive director of Augusta Child Advocates, Inc.)
A NEW YEAR always brings a sense of promise. The world seems a little fresher, the opportunities a bit brighter. It's a time to take stock, to figure out where we go from here. It's a time of rededication and resolution. Hope springs eternal, of course, and the springs of hope flow strongly at this time of year.
As we all look forward to a new year and then to a new century, I ask that you include in your thoughts some young members of our community whose need for hope is especially great. I'm talking about children in Richmond County who are victims of abuse or neglect.
ABUSE AND neglect are horrible facts of family life. They produce emotional scars that often are passed on to the next generation and a fresh cycle of abuse. How we handle abused and neglected children -- and there are more than 300 such children undergovernmental jurisdiction in Richmond County -- is a terribly important matter for all of us.
I am a court-appointed child advocate, sworn to uphold the best interests of a child in court proceedings. I train other people to become advocates. I do these things because the need is great and because I have seen what happens to children without advocates. For instance, I have seen some obviously adoptable children -- without advocates -- who have spent the vast majority of their childhoods in a sequence of foster homes.
ABUSE, NEGLECT and family violence are tragic experiences because they prevent or destroy attachment, turn babies into victims and create large social problems for all of us. The April 1997 issue of Parade magazine reported that the United States ranks second highest among all industrialized nations in the number of murders. Moreover, in comparison to all nations, including developing third-world nations, the United States has the second highest rape rate, the 11th highest rate of serious assault and the third highest rate of violent theft.
The Bureau of Justice in March 1997 released the results of a study indicating that if our present rate of incarceration continues, one out of every 20 babies born in the United States today will spend a part of their adult lives in state or federal prisons.
Those babies who came into the world without the chance for love, nurturing and bonding will almost certainly have an extraordinary chance to become our future criminals. Early neglect is a doorway to prison. Those who are abused and neglected learn how to abuse and neglect.
BUT WE CAN do some things to break the cycle of abuse. In particular, we can pay more attention to these children. Giving more attention to abused and neglected children is not easy. It requires dedication, knowledge and persistence. It requires gifts of the heart, head, hand and pocketbook.
Every man or woman who serves as an unpaid, trained child advocate -- called guardian ad litem in some states -- deserves to be recognized as a hero. Such a volunteer not only helps a child -- becomes that child's voice in court -- but makes the world better for all of us.
Likewise, those who support non-profit, private programs that train and coordinate child advocates are also heroes.
THERE ARE two such programs in Augusta. One is the CASA program under Child Enrichment, Inc. The other is Augusta Child Advocates, Inc. Your support is extraordinarily important. The job is big and the challenges are formidable. But there is hope for this new year, for the new century and for the children of this community.