(Editor’s note: This story is the first part of a multi-part series “Stolen Innocence,” about children who have been victimized by abuse that begins in Issue #1 and will continue through Issue #6. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview, take photographs and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.)
by: DARIELLA HERNANDEZ/Editorial Assistant
Judge David Soukup would stay up all night and worry about his decisions made toward the many cases he received regarding abused children.
Soukup became the founder of The Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) and was able to appoint volunteer guardians instead of attorneys to be by a child’s side until a home was found for them.
CASA has helped better the lives of volunteers and more importantly, children, for more than 35 years.
CASA is an organization with a network of 949 community-based programs that offer recruitment and training to citizen volunteers who serve as advocates for previously abused or neglected children.
Since 1977, the mission for CASA has been to help children find a suitable home and give them the opportunity to thrive. In order to do so, children are placed with trained advocates until they are guaranteed a safe, permanent home.
The volunteers are appointed advocates by a judge to help the child stay away from the stress caused by the social work, and also to serve as a trusted adult to the child until their case is closed. The case is closed is when a home has been found for the child.
“CASA of the South Plains empowers community members to serve as volunteer advocates that speak for the well-being of abused and neglected children in the foster care system,” explained Amanda Norfleet, recruitment director for CASA of the South Plains in Lubbock.
“As the recruitment director, my role is to spread the word about CASA’s mission and encourage people to volunteer with our great organization,” she adds.
When it comes to her job and the people she works with, Norfleet says, “I love meeting people that are passionate about making real changes in the lives of the children we serve.”
One of the main components of CASA would be their advocates, according to Norfleet, “Special advocates are community members just like you who ensure each foster child’s needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system,” says Norfleet.
Along with ensuring the foster child’s needs, “working to find safe, permanent homes for these most vulnerable children who are less likely to re-enter the child welfare system once their case is closed will end up spending about five months less in foster care,” continued Norfleet.
Just by spending less time in foster care, the children are less likely to be anxious or depressed during the search for a home.
In order to get the word out about CASA, Norfleet participates in fairs and recruitment events, speaks at businesses and churches, visits with anyone who calls the organization office and is interested in volunteering. She also works closely with agencies that assist in volunteer ‘matching’, such as The Volunteer Center of Lubbock.
Besides the ongoing events that CASA participates in, they also advertise and promote their organization as needed, often through advertising and social media.
CASA serves as an accessible start for individuals who would like to volunteer, as well as help those who are in need.
Volunteers must be 21 years of age or older, and should be willing to make sure the child’s rights, along with his or her needs, are being attended to while in foster care.
As of last year, more than 76,000 advocates helped more than 251,000 children find a safe home. CASA is currently helping children in all 49 states and the District of Columbia.
Most of the funding for CASA comes from the federal government through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency (OJJD).
Since CASA was founded, their court appointed advocates, as well as their volunteers, have been making a significant difference in the communities around the United States, especially in the lives of previously abused children.