Noel Wilkerson Holmes
The Children’s Alliance of South Texas (CAST) held their grand opening celebration Monday at 810 Main Street in Jourdanton.
“The services that we provide at CAST are part of a comprehensive response to child abuse in the state of Texas, “ said Executive Director, Meredith Erickson, Ph.D. “At CAST we do our best to provide that safe place where the trauma ends, and the healing and justice begin.”
CAST serves Frio, Karnes, La Salle, Wilson and Atascosa County and covers 54,000 square miles. Looking at the numbers and statistics through the five-county region, CAST saw a huge need in Atascosa County to have a center here.
“We were having to go to Atascosa Co. so much and then having law enforcement bring the kids here for interviewing,” said Erickson referring to their main office in Floresville. Erickson said that was one of the main reasons for the office in Jourdanton to prevent so much travel and back and forth transport.
According to Alexandra Torres, Children’s Alliance Forensic Program Director, this May CAST interviewed 84 children, 42 of those children were from Atascosa. “The need here in Atascosa is great,” said Torres. Torres gave a tour of the facilities including the forensic interview room designed for children and the adjacent room where law enforcement and others can watch the interview live on a big screen. Alex said it is so important for a child to have a safe place to tell their story. “It takes a lot of courage for a child to talk about abuse,” said Torres.
The children who visit the Child Advocacy Center have endured a lot in their young lives – physical and sexual abuse; the witnessing of a crime; exploitation through the internet, child pornography, the risk of abuse and neglect and human trafficking. CAST plays a unique role in providing comprehensive, coordinated and compassionate services to these child victims.
The new CAST home feels like a safe place. It is very family and child-friendly with floors covered in bright carpet decorated with jumbo crayons. Stuffed animals that line bookshelves and warm, cozy blankets are available for each child to have as their own. The supportive family members are given a nice and comfortable waiting room so they can be near their children while they are being interviewed.
The counseling program staff are licensed professionals specially trained in trauma-focused evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapeutic techniques. They also provide individual therapy, play therapy and art therapy for child victims and their supportive family members at no cost.
“I rely on CAST’s forensic interviews and counseling provided to children,” said Atascosa County Attorney and CAST board member, Jamison Reed. “Both of those services assist me in preparing for trials.”
Additionally, besides the every day CAST work of forensic interviews, advocacy, intervention, and counseling, the entire staff meets every first Friday for a Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) meeting. The staff does intake of cases referred to them via Child Protective Services with local Atascosa Co. law enforcement, prosecutors, social workers, advocates, medical and mental health professionals and others to provide high-quality specialized services for children and their families identified as the greatest in need.
Get involved with CAST today by going to their website www.castac.org or call (830) 393-6290. You can help by volunteering for events, clerical duty, committee involvement as well as by donating time, money, expertise, stuffed animals, books, blankets, and snacks.
Remember, you are obligated by law to report suspected child abuse. If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, call 911. For all other cases in Texas, call the abuse and neglect hotline at 800.252.5400.