Making a Huge Impact on Little Lives 1

CASA Volunteers insure Little Ones Aren’t Lost in the Court System

We have our fundraising breakfast on April 14th, called Light of Hope, and the event is free and open to the public, It’s the city’s largest fundraising breakfast and attracts more than 1,100 people. We have volunteers who speak, and it’s a truly great way to learn more about—and support—this truly incredible organization.

Steve Fitch vividly remembers what it was like to be a child awash in the foster-care system. Even years later, now a successful businessman, Steve acknowledges how his experience helped mold him into the person he is today.

“Having gone through the experience of being a foster child and knowing what an impact certain adults had on me during that time, I’ve always remembered that,” he says.

Steve wanted to pay it forward, and hearing that CASA needed volunteers—especially male volunteers—he signed up. And what an extraordinary way to give back: CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children and acts as a child’s voice while they’re under court protection due to cases of abuse or neglect. In a time of upheaval, uncertainty, and fright, CASA volunteers are a rock, a safe haven to which these children can turn.

There are 940 CASA organizations across the county, but the one in Jackson County is among the largest. Not quite half of the children in the charity’s care are below the age of 5, though it serves those 0 to 21. Since its inception, more than 20,000 children have been helped thanks to the organization. Last year alone, some 1,149 were aided.

“The Court appoints children to CASA,” Martha explains. “We have more than 380 volunteers who work individually with a child or family set. It’s the volunteer’s job to know everything about that child and his/her situation, including medical needs, family background, etc. Our volunteers talk to the children and the adults in their lives, they visit them wherever they’re living, observe, interview, view doctor’s reports, visit with teachers and principals—whatever needs to be done to have a clear understanding of what’s going on with that child. All of that information is then relayed back to the judge.”

CASA provides each child with a three-person team, including a CASA volunteer, a case supervisor, and a CASA staff attorney. This is in addition to their assigned social worker from the court, who usually balances more than 20 other cases. So you see the difference a CASA volunteer would make. The volunteer becomes that child’s voice and advocate, and the insurance that he or she won’t be lost in the shuffle of the system.

While Steve has only been a volunteer for a few years, he’s only on his second case. (Most cases last between 15 to 18 months.) His CASA work only requires about 10 hours a month, and the hours are very flexible.

“I’ve told people that it’s the greatest feeling you can have, being able to see the success of the kids or the certain case you’re involved with,” he says. “My first case led to an adoption, and that sense of success makes you want to get another case and keep going.”

And CASA is in great need for other volunteers to make such a huge difference in little lives. Unfortunately, childhood abuse is growing nationally—at about 3%—but the ugly truth is that it’s growing much faster in Missouri. CASA only serves about 1/3 of those in the system but would like to help more.

The investment is one that’s repaid almost immediately: Children in CASA are less likely to re-abused, more likely to get the services they need, and find a permanent home. In fact, over the past 4 years, 95% of children with a CASA volunteer did not re-enter the Jackson County courts.

Volunteer training involves a mere 20 hours of classroom time, some online classes, and is offered monthly. Volunteers are able to maintain their careers while helping, and each is supported by staff every step in the process.

Funding for this amazing organization comes from foundation grants, support from large corporations, and several very successful fundraising events, like Carnival for CASA in Lee’s Summit at Paradise Park. But as CASA’s caseload grows, so does its need for additional funds.

“We have our fundraising breakfast on April 14th, called Light of Hope, and the event is free and open to the public,” Martha says. “It’s the city’s largest fundraising breakfast and attracts more than 1,100 people. We have volunteers who speak, and it’s a truly great way to learn more about—and support—this truly incredible organization.”

For more information, visit JacksonCountyCasa-mo.org.