Court advocates needed for St. Mary Parish children
MORGAN CITY, La. -- Volunteers are needed to advocate for St. Mary Parish children in foster care.
Court appointed special advocates investigate the facts of the case, facilitate communication, monitor court orders and advocate for the best interest of the child. Because there are not enough volunteers to represent every child in foster care, judges usually assign CASA volunteers to their most difficult cases.
There continues to be a need for volunteers to help advocate for St. Mary Parish children who fall under the auspices of the 16th Judicial District, according to Robin Hedge, the executive director of CASA of the 16th JDC Inc.
“Our goal is to serve every child (and family) … but we don’t have enough CASA volunteers,” Hedge said. She added that there will be a volunteer training orientation from June 24-29. Those interested in volunteering to help a child in the community may call 337-359-9016.
In St. Mary, there are 45 active volunteers serving 85 foster children, according to Hedge. There are 210 children in foster care in the area covered by the 16th judicial district which is St. Mary, Iberia and St. Martin parishes.
Hedge said the long-term goal is to have a volunteer assigned to each child in foster care, which would take about 100 active volunteers. The short-term goal is to have 65-70 volunteers within a year.
The volunteers try to make sure the children do not get lost in the legal and social service system or needlessly spend months or years in group or foster homes.
John Wyble, executive director of Louisiana CASA, said volunteers are ordinary citizens who do not necessarily have a special or legal background. They do not replace a social worker but can make recommendations to the court independent of state agency restrictions.
“CASA volunteers are the heart of our program, they are the eyes and ears of the judge, and the voice of the children,” Wyble said.
The goal of the foster care system is to remedy the situation of abuse or neglect that caused the removal of a child. Court appointed volunteers help families locate resources and make the changes and adjustments needed in order for the child to have a secure and safe home, according to Hedge.
CASA volunteers stay with each case until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home, often serving as mentor and confidant during the time the child is in foster care.
“Independent research has shown that children are 90 percent less likely to re-enter foster care … and significantly more likely to receive essential services while in care” if they have a volunteer assigned to them, Wyble said.
CASA for Children says that CASA has its roots in a 1977 Seattle juvenile court judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information. He is said to have conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. From that first program, CASA has grown a network of nearly 1,000 CASA in all 50 states. More than 7,000 children find themselves in Louisiana’s foster care system each year.