ELKTON — The staff of Court Appointed Special Advocates, or Cecil CASA attached dozens of blue and silver pinwheels to the bridge over the railroad tracks on North Bridge Street recently to call attention to foster care children during the pandemic.

Giulia Hodge, executive director of the group charged with mentoring and protecting children in the foster care system, said she wanted to set out the pinwheels in April for Child Abuse Prevention Month but, like everything and everyone else, it was sidelined by COVID-19. Not one to lose a chance to promote her cause, Hodge instead decided the pinwheels could go up now because May happens to be National Foster Care Month.

“We want to bring some light to a dark, COVID-19 world,” Hodge said as she and three other women wove the blue stake into the chain link fence and secured each pinwheel with zip ties.

CASA, like every other non-profit organization, has had to find ways to continue operating during the stay-at-home orders. Even as Gov. Larry Hogan has begun his “Road to Recovery” efforts to re-open the state slowly Hodge has been connecting volunteers with online training while continuing to search for more caring adults to advocate for Cecil County’s foster care children.

“If you are willing to get involved in a life-changing and sometimes life-saving cause—the safety, health and well-being of a child—join us in speaking up for a child at this time of community crisis,” Hodge said. “When the world re-opens, the need will be greater than ever.”

Statewide referrals to the foster care program are down 70 percent. While that may seem great to those unfamiliar with the protective program, Hodge and her staff are bracing for a huge uptick once the stay-at-home orders are fully lifted.

“Right now there’s no eyes on the child,” Hodge said, explaining that teachers are often the adult that reports suspected abuse in the home. Schools are closed for the remainder of the current academic year and there is the possibility that home instruction could continue until January 2021.

There are 70 volunteers serving in CASA, but there is need for more. That’s because there are 130 children currently in foster care in Cecil County and only 90 of those have an advocate.

Kristen Graham, program manager, said the agency has been training new volunteers online.

“When children are able to go back to school ... it is important for us to be prepared and have committed advocates that are trained and ready to take a case and help a child in need,” Graham said.

To find out more about become an advocate call 410-996-3025 or go to cecilcasa.org.

As she threaded another pinwheel into place on the bridge that takes Bridge Street over the railroad tracks in Elkton, Graham, part of the install crew, pointed to the message stamped on each stake.

“We want to tell people children matter,” Graham said. “Every child matters.”

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