There are about 90 Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) working with approximately 150 children in Franklin and Gasconade counties. In all, about 130 of those children reside in Franklin County.
And while that number of CASAs has grown over the years, “there are still 150 more kids who could use a CASA,” said Glenda Volmert, executive director of Franklin County CASA.
There are approximately 350 children in foster care between the two counties. Of those, about 325 live in Franklin County.
Every time a child enters foster care, they get a case worker, a juvenile officer and a guardian ad litem, Volmert explained.
“CASA is an added bonus to that team,” she said.
A CASA is a highly trained community volunteer who is appointed by the judge to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court.
“My goal is to make a CASA available to every child in foster care,” Volmert said. “I don’t think that anyone would not benefit from an extra person being in their corner.”
Two of the big benefits of having a CASA, Volmert said, is that children who have an advocate tend to spend less time in foster care and the chance of re-entering care also is reduced.
Foster care is designed to be temporary, with the ultimate goal of permanency placement.
“It’s a system, which is why it’s important that children do not linger in care, that they’re being raised by a family that’s their own or adopted family,” Volmert said.
After a request from the Gasconade County children’s workers and the guardian ad litem in Gasconade County, CASA expanded into that area last year.
The organization received a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant to add a new position serving Gasconade County.
The Franklin County organization must provide services in Gasconade County because there can only be one CASA within each judicial circuit. The 20th circuit includes Franklin, Gasconade and Osage counties.
Volmert said eventually, the program will expand to Osage County.
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life, Volmert said, adding that some of the best traits for a great CASA are availability and flexibility.
“I mean that not only in terms of time when I say that they’re flexible, but also in their mind set,” she said.
Circumstances change often based on facts gathered by those involved with the case, she explained.
Volunteers also need to be able to work with a variety of personalities and be able to work in different settings, from courtrooms to schools, homes and wherever they work with children.
Advocates gather facts about what is happening with a child to give to a judge, which includes talking with school personnel, social workers, juvenile officers and other professionals.
Advocates spend time with children at foster homes, play games, attend school and extracurricular functions, and support the child in other ways. They also are tasked with getting to know the child’s biological family, observing visits and meeting to talk about family history, strengths of the family and resources for that child.
“Our motto is ‘We are the voice for the child,’ and that’s exactly true,” Volmert said. “We try to make sure the child is heard and remembered as we’re making decisions about them.”
Volunteers must be at least 21 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent.
The average time commitment is 10 to 15 hours per month, though much of the work can be done after work hours.
Many volunteers have full-time jobs, Volmert noted. After training, volunteers are supported by CASA staff.
CASA volunteer training is offered three times per year. Participants take part in 30 hours of training over five to six weeks.
Five classroom sessions are held at sites in either Union, Hermann or Owensville, typically in the evenings. Online training is conducted between sessions and includes three to five hours of training per week.
Topics include the role of a CASA, basics of the juvenile court system, the role of various professionals they will work with, laws that benefit children in juvenile care, family dynamics, child development and other issues that might come up.
By the end of the training, advocates write a court report based on a fictional case scenario to practice their skills.
“When we train volunteers, you are not making a commitment until you say yes to that particular child,” said Volmert, adding that some people choose not to be a CASA after training.
“No harm is done by educating yourself about what it means to be a CASA,” she said.
After people say yes to a certain child, advocates are asked for a commitment of 18 months or until that child finds permanency.
There is no cost for training. Mileage is covered for advocates to travel to visits. Some financial help is offered for birthday presents or other special milestones.
Volmert said there is a particular need for male volunteers.
Once training is complete, CASAs are sworn in as Friends of the Court and take an oath.
The next training session begins at the end of January and runs through the beginning of March.
Nonadvocate volunteers also are needed, as well as a board member from the Pacific area.
The annual Justice is Served breakfast will be held Saturday, Jan. 27, beginning at 8 a.m., at St. Francis Borgia’s Jesuit Hall, Washington. The cost is $30 and diners are served by local judges. The event also will include guest speakers and an award presentation.
Donations will be used to help recruit and train volunteers, as well as to support the CASA mission.
RSVPs are due Jan. 19.
For more information about CASA, applications to become an advocate or to donate, people may visit http://franklincountycasa.wixsite.com or call 636-583-4422 in Franklin County, or 636-649-0327 in Gasconade County.