New CASAs will speak for children's best interests

Monday, November 22, 2004

"They are the eyes and the ears for judges and the voice of the children," began Bonnie McCulley, Court Appointed Special Advocates president, as she welcomed the group attending a CASA swearing-in ceremony at Southeast Missouri Hospital recently.

Current CASA volunteers along with representatives of the juvenile division, United Way of Southeast Missouri and special guests of honor attended the swearing in ceremony for new CASAs.

A special plaque, presented to the Rushing family, acknowledged appreciation of their support and a $1,500 donation to CASA.

Guest speaker Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. shared his prior experiences as a prosecuting attorney, noting that the particularly hard cases were the ones involving children. He spoke of the crisis in the juvenile system which has been resolved by means of significant legislation recently passed in juvenile court areas. Improvements have included the publication and distribution of a best practices manual, better standards aimed at ensuring prompt processing of cases, consideration of placing neglected or abused children with suitable relatives first, open courts (unless a child is testifying) and cross training for all involved in children's cases to promote interaction and feedback.

'Go at it'

Limbaugh enlightened the new CASAs by sharing dark stories of the hard decisions concerning the removal of children from their homes contrasted with scenarios of adoption cases that ended with tears of happiness. Limbaugh said, "We have volumes of statutes, rule after rule, multitudes of programs to reunify families and immeasurable resources. But success [for the children] depends entirely upon the people that run it. You people are blessed. Go at it. Win the day for kids."

Nine new CASAs were sworn in, joining 33 current volunteers. The volunteers receive 30 hours of training and 12 in-service hours annually.

Last year 32 CASA volunteers provided 1,757 hours to 181 children in the Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry county areas. In all, 39 child cases were closed, 27 new children were assigned to a CASA volunteer, eight children were adopted, 10 children were placed with legal guardians and 21 were returned to their families.

CASA board member Chuck Stotz shared his personal experience with foster homes in Connecticut. His adopted daughter, then 6, lived in numerous foster homes before he and his wife adopted her. "If there had been CASAs in Connecticut she wouldn't have had to go through all she did," he said.

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