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story.lead_photo.caption First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp of Bowie County gives a presentation on child abuse and dealing with the subject in court on a daily basis at the CASA Women of Hope and Courage luncheon Thursday at Northridge Country Club in Texarkana, Texas. CASA, which provides court-appointed special advocates for children in foster care as their case moves through the court system, served 342 children in 2018 with 100 CASA advocates. Photo by Hunt Mercier / Texarkana Gazette.

Child abuse was the topic of discussion at the Women of Hope and Courage Luncheon Thursday at Northridge Country Club.

The Women of Hope and Courage was a group formed to support Court Appointed Special Advocates of Northeast Texas and the Children's Advocacy Center.

"The purpose of the event is to bring all of the people from the community together to talk about child abuse," said Brandy Eldridge, CASA executive director. "So we invited all the people in the community involved in child welfare to attend."

Those groups had booths set up to answer questions and provide information about their services to those who attended the luncheon. Groups represented included Bikers Against Child Abuse, The Call, A World for Children, Community Healthcore, For the Sake of One, Domestic Violence Prevention, Inc. and more.

"The Women of Hope and Courage are part of the Children's Advocacy Center. They just wanted to help us in any way they could. One piece we were really missing was a preventative education piece," said Eldridge.

With the support from the Women of Hope and Courage and First Baptist Church Texarkana, CASA was able to print an educational booklet and has started going out and providing a class to groups, churches and individuals in the community to help them learn more about child abuse and how to prevent it.

"Our big push today is putting the responsibility back on adults and not on the children. This education is free and we're offering it to everyone in Texarkana so that as a community we understand child abuse and we can help prevent it," Eldridge said.

Any group or organization interested in taking the class is invited to call CASA at 903-792-1030.

"It's a two-hour class, but it's a good two hours. We want people to do the right thing. We want them to start talking about child abuse," Eldridge said.

CASA, which provides court appointed special advocates for kids in foster care as their case moves through the court system, served 342 children in 2018 with 100 CASA advocates.

The Children's Advocacy Center provides forensic interviews for children when it's suspected they've been abused, trauma counseling and support for the children as those cases go through the court system.

In 2018, the center conducted 592 forensic interviews, provided mental health services for 129 families and conducted 37 sexual assault exams.

Kelley Crisp, Bowie County first assistant district attorney, spoke at the luncheon. Crisp prosecutes many of the child abuse cases in Bowie County and she said that without the work of the Children's Advocacy Center, getting convictions in those cases would be much more difficult.

"There is no greater tool for law enforcement than a forensic interview," Crisp said.

Before the CAC kids often had to tell their story multiple times to different investigators.

"Before these forensic interviews were available kids had to relieve the abuse over and over," Crisp said. "I cannot express what an important feature this is. We have these individuals convicted and removed from the streets because of the work they are doing."

For information on how to get involved with CASA or to make a donation call 903-792-1030.

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