For most Brown, Comanche and Mills County children, the summer break from school is a chance to relax. For other youngsters, summer is anything but a vacation. When the opening school bells ring teacher, coaches, parents and others may see signs of abuse that children have suffered over the summer.

"It isn't unusual for there to be an increase in reports of suspected abuse when school resumes," said Michelle Wells, executive director of CASA in the Heart of Texas in Brownwood. "In the summer, many children have less interaction with adults outside their families, adults who might see signs of abuse or neglect."

For CASA Court Appointed Special Advocates, this increase in reports of child abuse translates to a greater need for volunteers to speak up for children who enter the foster care system, Wells said. CASA is a volunteer-based effort to represent each child's best interests and find him or her a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible.

"Every eight minutes, a child is a victim of abuse and neglect in Texas, Wells said. "Problems of abuse and neglect don't just happen elsewhere, they also happen in Brown, Comanche and Mills. This are children in our community and we need to keep them safe," she said.

Wells said 72 children in Brown, Comanche and Mills counties were removed from their home because of abuse and neglect in 2010. We only had 31 CASA volunteers for those children. She said CASA in the Heart of Texas goal is a CASA volunteer for every child.

"When child are removed from a home because of evidence of abuse and neglect, they enter the child welfare system and are often uprooted from everyone and everything that is familiar to them. That is often a traumatic and scary event that no child should go through alone," said Wells. "Our children in foster care need a CASA volunteer to speak up for them."

CASA volunteers learn about the children they represent to make informed recommendations to the court about their needs. They meet with the children at least once a month to find out what the children want and need, said Wells. This relationship gives a child another chance to meet an adult and learn about his or her own potential, she said.

"CASA volunteers are regular people who have chosen to speak up for abused and neglected children in their community," Wells said.

Children's teachers or schoolmates' parents are often on the frontline of identifying potential abuse. Teachers and the parents of a child's friends should be on the lookout for sudden changes in behavior or school performance. If an outgoing child who had good grades suddenly is withdrawn an has trouble with schoolwork, some questions need to be asked, said Wells.

For more information about getting involved with CASA in the Heart of Texas, visit casabrownwood.org or email us at casa@familysc.net.