Last year there were 8,967 substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect in Iowa. The cost to taxpayers of our child welfare system was about $230 million. Many of the children reported as abused or neglected were designated as “child in need of assistance” and removed from their homes, putting them and their families into the court system. Almost half of them were 5 years old or younger.
These children, who have already faced untold trauma, enter a circumstance that confuses and frightens them, one they don’t understand, and one that’s full of well-meaning people they don’t know. In spite of what they’ve suffered, most of them just want to go home. But we, as citizens, want them to be safe, loved, and happy. And we don’t want them to be invisible, because they are our future.
When we read the occasional horror story of a child in foster or adoptive care being seriously harmed, our first reaction is to ask, “How can this happen?” Our second reaction might be to ask, “What can I do?”
Sometimes there’s no answer to the first question. But there is an answer to the second: CASA. The Court Appointed Special Advocate program, largely staffed by volunteers who are ordinary citizens — people like you — gives a child in need of assistance a voice and a supportive adult as the case winds its way through the courts.
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CASA volunteers receive comprehensive training in child welfare and are given the tools to help. Each advocate is then assigned to a child or a family of children. The advocate’s only role is to be a voice for the child, to listen to the child, look out for the child’s best interests in court, and see to it that the child is never invisible. For many children, their CASA is the one constant in an otherwise chaotic life, the one person who is always there to care.
CASAs make a significant difference. According to research done by the National CASA Association, children with a CASA volunteer spend less time in foster care, are less likely to re-enter foster care, are more likely to find a safe, permanent home, and more likely to succeed in school and attend college. They are more likely to become responsible citizens as adults.
Unfortunately, in Iowa only one in 14 children who are “in the system” has a CASA because there aren’t enough volunteers. If you have time in your life for a child, volunteer. You’ll be in the company of other ordinary people — teachers, nurses, managers, real estate agents, executives, accountants, sales associates, construction workers — who care about kids. You’ll be welcomed into a community that makes a difference every day.
Iowa CASA is under the umbrella of the Iowa Child Advocacy Board. To find out more and fill out a volunteer application, go to www.casaiowa.org. There are children who need you.