In cases of child neglect or abuse, where a child is in state care or under state supervision, children have several adults working their case in court.
A social worker represents the state. That worker follows policies and procedures to make sure a child is safe. A guardian ad litem represents the child’s legal interests in court.
But it’s the CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocate — volunteer who is the most personal. A private investigator of sorts.
It’s the volunteer’s role to find out information about the children, including what brought them into foster care.
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“The role of the CASA is to learn as much about the child as possible,” said Lois Rice, executive director of CASA for Johnson & Wyandotte Counties.
Not every case gets a CASA, because there aren’t enough volunteers. A CASA is often assigned in severe instances of abuse and neglect, or cases with a large sibling group.
A CASA volunteer typically carries one case at a time, although experienced volunteers can handle two. State social workers sometimes juggle 30 or more.
Through the course of the court case, the CASA can bring up issues to the social workers and judge. A child may need therapy or have concerns at school.
In the end, the volunteer then will make a recommendation to the judge.
“Finding the right family for a child, that can make all the difference in the world,” Rice said. “To get the support, the care, the physical and emotional nurturing so that they can feel safe again.
“With that proper home environment and services, the kids can be very resilient and overcome those early behaviors and adapt to a more warm and caring and nurturing home.”
To volunteer or donate
Other ways to help include donating money or supplies such as diapers, baby wash, toothpaste and “birthday bags” for children in foster care.