New Year’s resolutions typically focus on self-improvement like losing weight, stopping smoking and getting more exercise.
But Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of South-Central Missouri suggests this year to instead do something for someone else: Improving the life of a child who’s suffered abuse or neglect.
As a court-appointed special advocate, volunteers receive in-depth training to advocate in court and in the community for the needs and rights of children in foster care. CASA volunteers come from all walks of life and professions and have one thing in common: They care about kids.
“Volunteers get to know the child they represent by talking with everyone in that child’s life: parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers and others,” said CASA of South Central Missouri executive director Judith Waters. “They use the information they gather to inform judges and others of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them.”
CASA volunteers complete a 30-hour pre-service training. Once assigned to a case, they can expect to spend an average of about 10 hours a month getting to know the child, gathering information, exploring resources to meet the child’s needs, advocating for the child in court and writing reports.
Volunteers receive ongoing education and support from their local program, as well as from the National CASA Association.
“It’s one of the most personally rewarding experiences I’ve ever had,” said local volunteer Sheila Carroll. “I know that I’m not just helping these children, but their kids and their grandkids and generations of kids to follow.”
There are currently 12 CASA volunteers working cases in Texas County, and another 37 covering Phelps and Pulaski counties. More than 80 children are currently in the program in Texas County – a file cabinet in the CASA office inside the Justice Center is virtually bursting at the seams.
Leigh Ann Sigman, who coordinates CASA volunteer activity in Texas County, said the court in this county requires a CASA worker to be assigned to every child’s case, as opposed to only some in the other two counties.
“The program is so busy locally that there’s a waiting list of kids needing CASA volunteers, so obviously there’s an increased need for volunteers right now,” Sigman said. “It has really grown.”
Sigman said keeping a CASA worker’s caseload at a manageable level is a priority.
“We try to keep it down to one or two cases at a time,” she said, “so they have that extra time to work with each individual child.”
An informational meeting took place Jan. 27 in the multi-purpose room of the Texas County Justice Center.
To learn more about volunteering with CASA, call Sigman at 573-578-8120 or email email@example.com.