FRANKLIN COUNTY, MO. (KTVI) - Missouri has nearly ten thousand children in foster care. In Illinois, the number is more than one hundred thousand. And in both states, there's an organization that is speaking for those children. It's called CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate. Natasha Cunningham came from the foster care system and says something like CASA. She says, "Had I had a voice for myself in foster care, I believe things would have been a lot different."
Natasha is now training to be an advocate. A judge appoints these specially trained volunteers to be with a child as his or her case moves through the court system. Advocates meet with the child regularly, attend school meetings, sporting events, and just spend time with the child. Glenda Volmert, the Executive Director of CASA in Franklin County says, "What the advocate wants to do is see the child in their settings, in their natural setting. That gives the advocate a true picture of how that child is doing adjusting to their new environment."
During the court process, the advocate files a report with the court, from the child's point of view. It includes facts about the child and what is happening in their life, including their wishes. Cunningham says that's important for foster children. She says "there are a lot of feelings and emotions that I went through and I feel had the judge know what I was truly going through, instead of just getting bits and pieces, I think that it would have made my stay in care a lot different."
Right now, across the country, there are many more children in foster care than there are advocates to speak for them. The national organization started a campaign to recruit more volunteers. Current advocates say it can be quite rewarding. Stephanie McKenzie has been an advocate for nearly four years now. She says, "it's pretty exciting that I'm part of his life as a young adult and watching him grow up, watching all of the things that he can do. To me, that is the most rewarding." Cunningham says she's anxious to begin her work as an advocate. She says, "When you become a CASA you are becoming that voice, like I keep saying, that voice for a child, and just try to empathize with the children that are in care, how you can help them. It's just about taking that extra step."
You can search to see if a CASA is your county on the national CASA website. They are in need of volunteer advocates, as well as volunteers who can help on a variety of other projects.