Feb. 6, 2015: CASA makes a difference for children — but more help is needed, by Carol Miller

February 6, 2015 by

Carol Miller

Carol Miller

You might remember a report in the Aug. 29, 2014, Blade-Empire about a man being arrested “after an investigation into life-threatening injuries sustained by a 16-month-old.”

Shocking to think this is happening in Concordia, that innocent children are being abused and neglected. But it happens everywhere, in all cultures and socioeconomic classes. Some are able to hide it better than others, but it is still happening. Ask teachers – they see signs of it in their classrooms every day.

Twenty years ago I had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children.

I assisted then-Magistrate Judge Kathryn Carter write a grant to establish a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in Cloud County, with the intent to expand into the rest of the five counties in the Twelfth Judicial District. I was fortunate to be hired as the program’s first director by Judge Thomas Tuggle. A board of directors was assembled and we were off and running.

I was so naïve – I had no idea how the system worked or how little the best interest of children was considered when agencies worked to put families back together. Children were seen but not heard. What they had to say did not matter because, like a social worker once told me, “We don’t do what they want anyway.”

Very quickly I became even more convinced of the value of CASA volunteers and the difference they make in the lives of children who are lucky enough to have them. CASA volunteers are the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege to get to know and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Establishing a relationship with the child is the most important thing we do as CASA volunteers. We want firsthand knowledge about their unique personality, their abilities, needs and wishes. As their voice in court, we share the child’s concerns and wishes with the judge, even if we don’t agree.

What we don’t do is take them into our home or act as the child’s parent, social worker, mentor or therapist! We investigate the situation, look for resources to help the child/family, advocate for what we believe is in the child’s best interest and monitor the case by keeping track of how the orders of the court and the plans of the foster care agency are carried out. This is important work that takes a commitment of time, energy and heart. Ten individuals made that commitment in 2014; nine children are now benefitting from their advocacy.

In 2014, we were privileged to advocate for 32 children in four counties. Of those 32, 12 had been assigned a CASA volunteer in 2013 or before; 20 were new cases filed in 2014.

Unfortunately, those 20 new cases were just a fraction of the 117 Child in Need of Care (CINC) cases filed in those four counties during 2014. That means we were able to reach only 17 percent of the children.

The percentage was even worse when we look at Cloud County alone: Here 53 new cases were filed in 2014, but due to a lack of volunteers only seven — or 13 percent — were assigned a CASA.

Are we making a difference? Yes, for the children we are assigned to. Is it good enough? No. Not until we are able to provide a CASA volunteer for EVERY child who needs one.

I believe it takes a village to raise a child and that it is the responsibility of adults to protect children. Volunteering a few hours a week can make a huge difference for a child who needs an advocate, someone who is there for them, not because they are paid, but because they care. These children need someone who is willing to commit to the time, energy and heart that is needed to be a CASA volunteer for an abused or neglected child. Can you be that person?

If so, contact our office at 243-8200 or nckcasa@cloudcountyks.org. Lift up a child’s voice, a child’s life. Become a CASA volunteer.

 

— Carol Miller has served as the executive director of NCK CASA since the program was established in 1994, and Hope’s Place Child Advocacy Center, which was established in 2008.

 

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