In light of the recent report published by the Office of the Inspector General (September 2021), Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA®) programs in Missouri offer a proven solution to help reduce negative outcomes for children in the foster care system.
According to research conducted by the National Court Appointed Special Advocate and Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL) Association for Children (National CASA/ GAL), children with a CASA volunteer—one consistent adult—in their lives are more likely to receive court-ordered services, more likely to succeed in school academically and behaviorally, more likely to find a safe, permanent home, and less likely to re-enter foster care.
Mid-Ozark CASA works very closely with the Children’s Division, the Juvenile Office, and the Guardian ad Litem (child’s attorney) to ensure that children are being heard and receiving the appropriate attention and services during their time in foster care. Mid-Ozark CASA takes pride in this team approach and condone the collaboration and information-sharing that comes from being a member of the Family Support Team.
Mid-Ozark CASA also recognize the inconsistencies that come as a consequence of an over-burdened system, and offer a solution that brings consistency to a child’s life, mitigating the situations that often lead to negative outcomes for children, such as running away or engaging in other risky behaviors.
CASA programs recruit, screen, train, and support community volunteers who are the advocates, mentors, and friends of children and youth in foster care. CASA volunteers are equipped to work with high-risk youth, are trauma-informed, and are supervised by trained members of staff. These volunteers typically work with one child or sibling group and are strongly encouraged to stay with the child(ren) throughout the life of the case.
CASA volunteers advocate for the overall health and well-being of children in foster care, and, in many cases, know the child well enough to report when a child is at a heightened risk of negative or risky behaviors, or is in danger, which is beneficial to the Children’s Division and other child welfare partners, as well as to the courts and local law enforcement. It is our practice to share information with other members of the Family Support Team. Volunteers also write a court report that is submitted to the Juvenile Judge, with recommendations for placement and well-being, the child’s wishes, and requests for court-ordered services for the child and/or family.
Through the community’s generous support, Mid-Ozark CASA has also provided winter coats, backpacks and school supplies, personal care items, clothing, books, frozen beef along with other food items and much, much more to families and children throughout the 42nd Judicial Circuit (Crawford, Dent, Iron, Reynolds and Wayne Counties).
Thus far in 2021, Mid-Ozark CASA’s 44 volunteers have served 133 children. Volunteers experience wonderful outcomes, such as “Jane”: It is hard to put “Jane’s” childhood story into words. Orphaned at a young age, she began her long struggle in the foster care system. She was moved in and out of both family and kinship placements, none of which made her feel like she belonged. One constant in her life was her CASA volunteer, a person who knew both “Jane” and her family situation. “Jane’s” CASA became her mentor, her friend, and her advocate for all of her needs, which were complex and delicate. With encouragement from her CASA, “Jane” decided she would prove everyone wrong and be successful at the goals she had set for herself. She graduated from high school and received placement in a job training program. Today she has her own home and is employed at a major US corporation. “Jane” recently declared that she feels like she is finally where she belongs.
Best-interest advocacy for children starts with our communities and there are so many ways you can help. Become a CASA volunteer, give to the program, help get the word out; Mid-Ozark CASA needs communities to get involved so that they can continue to protect and advocate for the most vulnerable children