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Judge Rachel Shepherd knows the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program is making a positive impact for kids in foster care in Marion, Monroe and Ralls counties.
Judges have the responsibility of making decisions that determine if children in foster care are reunified with families, are kept in foster placements, and/or become wards of the state. However, there is a lot that goes into making these decisions.
These decisions are taken seriously and have huge impacts on everyone involved in these cases, especially the children.
Judge Shepherd knows that the more information judges have, the easier these decisions can be made. That is where the CASA Program comes in.
“CASA is a consistent part of a child’s case. While a child is in care, they might have multiple case workers, guardian ad litems, and juvenile officers, but the CASA is there as a constant voice,” said Judge Shepherd.
CASA volunteers are paired with court cases where children are taken into foster care and act as the voice for children in the court system while they are in foster care.
There are many partners who play a part in court cases where children are involved. But, CASA volunteers get to simply focus on what is best for the child.
“Children Division visits are administrative in nature,” explained Judge Shepherd, sharing that Children Division workers must get certain paperwork completed and do various things when visiting a child to ensure the administrative aspects of their jobs get done. “But the CASA gets to be all about the child.”
When an individual steps up to be a CASA volunteer, the volunteer is paired with a court case where children are involved and have been placed in foster care.
The CASA volunteer then stays with that court case until the impacted children are reunified with their parents or receive a different permanent placement.
“This is a big commitment from beginning to end,” said Judge Shepherd.
There is no anticipated timeline for how long a CASA volunteer can expect to work with a family. Sometimes court cases are resolved within five to six months. Other times these cases take five to six years.
Throughout the time while the court case is ongoing, the CASA volunteer really gets to know the child/children and everything that is impacting that case very in depth.
On average, case workers with Children’s Division have 20 plus cases that they are managing. Many of those cases also have multiple children involved. So, these workers are stretched beyond thin trying to manage many aspects of many cases.
For a CASA volunteer, they are paired with just one case. Though there might be multiple children in a sibling set involved, they get to be much more involved in the case and get to know everything going on at a much more intimate level.
They visit with the child, are present when children are visiting with parents, check in on their schooling, and more.
Ultimately, CASA volunteers share their experiences in reports and in person during court proceedings with judges.
Judge Shepherd shares that she relies upon the CASA reports.
She added there is information within the reports that include information that only a CASA volunteer could provide which is very valuable for her in her role as a judge.
“The more information a judge has, the better the decision a judge can make,” said Judge Shepherd, adding CASA volunteers are providing a large amount of information and insight to help herself and other judges make the best decisions possible for local children in foster care.
Judge Shepherd greatly values the CASA Program. To learn more about the CASA Program locally visit https://casa.douglassonline.org/
Locally, CASA is a program of Douglass Community Services. Throughout the month of September, United Way is highlighting Douglass Community Services as the Community Impact Agency of the month.
Douglass Community Services is one of the 17 local non-profit organizations that will benefit financially from United Way’s BE A LIGHT Campaign. This year’s BE A LIGHT Campaign will also provide support to: AVENUES, Birthday Blessings, CHART Teen Task Force, Coyote Hill, Families and Communities Together (FACT), Hannibal Free Clinic, Hannibal Parents as Teacher, Harvest Outreach Ministries, Hannibal Alliance for Youth Success, Heartland Resources, Inc., Learning Opportunities/Quality Works (LOQW), Monroe City Food Pantry, Northeast Community Action Corporation (NECAC), The Salvation Army of Hannibal, The Child Advocacy Center of Northeast Missouri, and the YMCA of Hannibal.
Community members and businesses are encouraged to partner with United Way to be a light to individuals who rely upon these community agencies.
Contributions to the BE A LIGHT Campaign can be made online at unitedwaymta.org or by mailing gifts to PO Box 81 Hannibal, Mo 63401.