SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Nearly 700,000 children experience abuse or neglect each year. And every year, thousands of them come through the legal system.
That’s where Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) comes in to help support the children.
But leaders of the Volunteers for Youth Justice program say there’s a critical shortage of volunteers, leaving many kids on a waiting list.
At any given time, as many as 400 abused or neglected children are in the court system in Northwest Louisiana.
As a foster parent, Kristi Goodman noticed how CASA volunteers can help a child.
“They probably don’t have a great family support. So they need somebody in their court to say, ‘I’m going to fight for you, whether it’s reunification, or keeping you in a safe environment’.”
So she just volunteered six months ago and now is one of roughly 180 volunteers.
That critical shortage of volunteers has consequences.
“We have at any given time about 40 to 80 kids that are on what we call a waiting list,” CASA recruiter and trainer Melinda Wallace said.
Volunteers are recruited and trained so they can advocate what’s in the best interest of the child.
The volunteers get to know their children and even make recommendations to the judge about the case.
The ultimate goal is to find each child a safe, permanent home.
Wallace described a successful volunteer as someone who is passionate about helping a child through a crisis.
“It’s not necessarily a simple thing. It will cost you in your time; and it will cost you in your emotions," she began.
"But the value of this role, statistics tell us, will make a difference in the lives of children and families.”
The biggest question of all: How much of a difference can a CASA volunteer have in a child's case?
Wallace said the statistics say it all.
“When there is a CASA on a case, the amount of time kids remain in a foster care situation is cut by about half.”
Goodman said she often hears people don’t become a volunteer because they fear getting too emotionally attached.
“All that is true. But these children need somebody.”
The role of a CASA volunteer is no small task. It includes everything from gathering all the case information to ensuring that services are put in place.
They also write a report to the court with your recommendations and follow the case all the way through the system.
Volunteers do not need any special background or experience.
But becoming a CASA volunteer does require 30 hours of training. That’s 15 hours in class and 15 hours of homework.
You must be at least 21 years old and give a minimum one-year commitment.
For more information, click here or call Volunteers for Youth Justice at (318) 425-4413.