When a 12-year-old girl like Maya Ranot drops to 58 pounds, shows up at school with cuts and bruises, tells her friends she's being beaten at home, and winds up bloodied in the emergency room, we're horrified. How could a system that's supposed to protect children like Maya have failed her so miserably?
The New York Times questioned why a New York City social worker spent a year monitoring the case "but did not act." In a 2010 Facebook post the newspaper uncovered, the social worker reportedly said she wanted to quit her job. "I can't take it. [It's] way too much."
It is tragic that our nation's child welfare system is so overburdened that caring and compassionate caseworkers get so overwhelmed. The system struggles to handle the volume and complexity of the 1,900 abuse and neglect cases that are reported every day. That's eight to 10 reported new cases by the time you finish reading this article.
We can't help children like Maya by pointing hasty fingers of blame at "the system" or "that burnt-out caseworker." But each and every one of us can take meaningful steps toward preventing and ending child abuse.
More than 75,000 volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA volunteers, are doing just that -- everyday -- by making sure that the rights and needs of children like Maya are at the forefront of decisions being made by judges, lawyers, social workers and family members. One child at a time, CASA volunteers are filling the huge gap between the needs of foster kids and the child welfare system's capacity to meet those needs.
By serving as a CASA volunteer, you can have on a profound impact on a child. It can break the cycle of violence and neglect -- not just for one child, but for generations to come.
We must also address systemic challenges and make critical investments - on a local, statewide and national level -- to patch up the safety net that's supposed to protect our children.
The interagency Children's Cabinet that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio formed this year after the death of 4-year-old Myls Dobson was an important step toward fostering better collaboration among agencies involved in child abuse cases.
But more action is needed. There's a role for each and every one of us to play in a shared national commitment to keeping our most vulnerable kids safe.
What will yours be?