"CASA advocate volunteers receive nothing but the hope that they have helped a child.
This is where Court Appointed Special Advocates come in – also known in many jurisdictions as Guardians ad litem. But according to the CASA For Children site, there are only 85,000 volunteers nationwide.
Trained volunteers are needed to supplement the efforts of licensed foster parents, guardians and social workers to help a child through the foster care system. In a courtroom setting, a CASA volunteer’s words are taken to heart when considering decisions for the child’s future. The need for more volunteers is so great in fact some counties across the country are starting their own chapters of CASA – such as Jasper County, Missouri, where close to 400 kids are currently in the foster care system out of a population of 120,000 (last recorded 2018 by the U.S. Census Bureau). This chapter began in January thanks to the efforts of board president Debi Koelkebeck, who currently has 30 trained volunteers serving kids.
“CASA advocate volunteers receive nothing but the hope that they have helped a child,” she said. “They wrap the kids up in their hearts and minds and set the emotional temperature for the kids’ needs. They meet children who have suffered neglect, physical and sexual abuse. The kids have experienced trauma and the volunteers see it every time they visit – which depends on each case – it can be weekly or monthly.”
A volunteer’s role is to visit the child along with the main influencers in his/her lives such as the foster parents, biological parents, therapists, counselors, coaches and teachers. This time and care enables the volunteer to speak wisely on the child’s behalf and impacts decisions for the child’s future. Koelkebeck said this is the primary challenge volunteers face.
“The volunteers always have the child’s best interest in mind when making decisions – whether that’s to reconnect them to their families or to take action to remove them from their families,” she said. “We have to realize that our way and what we want to do isn’t necessarily what’s best for the child and this takes a lot of trust in God’s plan. Volunteering isn’t for everyone because it’s an emotional roller-coaster full of heartache for what the child has experienced, perseverance to get them to a forever home – great reward and sometimes great sadness.”
Volunteer Jodi Goth serves New-Mac CASA which influences the lives of 13,500 foster kids in both Newton and McDonald counties in Southwest Missouri. For two years she has visited kids within an hour of Springfield, Missouri, where she works during the day for the U.S. Army in logistics. She said so far judges have appointed her an advocate for mostly teenagers, and right now she sees three.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for people who can’t protect themselves,” Goth said. “You can imagine how I felt when I heard about kids being taken from their homes in the middle of the night because their homes weren’t safe. Whether they realize it’s safe or not, being taken from your home is terrifying. I’ve learned that kids in the system can sometimes get lost in the sense that foster placements change, social workers can change – they need a consistent voice in their lives until they get to their forever home.”
To become a volunteer, find your local CASA chapter for more information about training and background checks. Goth said the best way to rally around those who can volunteer is to be an active member of a church that loves and listens.
“The main source of support and help I have received has come from my church,” she said. “It can be overwhelming to volunteer for these kids because you feel like you’re right in there with them in their struggles. It’s emotionally exhausting because sometimes there’s nothing you can do to help them with certain problems except pray and trust God. The fellowship I’ve had with my church, people who have listened to me and encouraged me has helped me keep going. There’s a sense of renewal in faith when you know that you’re where God has led you.”