Voices for Children/CASA organization to host polo match fundraiser, continue advocacy for children

Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Amanda Huber, a volunteer for Voices for Children, poses for a photo outside of the Common Pleas Courthouse Monday, July 17, 2017 in Cape Girardeau.
Andrew J. Whitaker

By Marybeth Niederkorn

A polo classic and fun will, organizers hope, bring in funds and awareness for Voices for Children/CASA of Southeast Missouri.

The classic will be held Aug. 26 at the Little Egypt Polo Club in Cape Girardeau, and features a competitive polo match, hors d'oeuvres, dinner, music by Shades of Soul and a champagne divot stomp after the match.

Executive director of Voices for Children/CASA Linda Nash said fundraising is a necessary component of the organization's greater mission, to advocate for children in court cases so they can get into a safe, secure, permanent home as soon as possible.

Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteers work with children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and Nash says the children range in age from newborn to age 21.

Linda Nash, Director for Voices for Children, poses for a photo inside the Voices for Children/CASA office Monday, July 17, 2017 in Cape Girardeau.
Andrew J. Whitaker

"At 21, they have to age out of the foster system," Nash says, "but we try to keep them so that they can take advantage of some services offered by the state, education and things of that nature."

Nash says Voices for Children/CASA has a two-part program. One part, which has been in place for 25 years in Southeast Missouri, works with younger children, from birth to about age 14, to ensure placement in a safe, secure environment, "whether that means returning to the home of origin or being placed in guardianship," Nash says.

The other part of the program, Fostering Futures, began in April 2016, and focuses on teaching life skills to youths ages 14 and older.

"By and large, unfortunately, if they're not adopted by the time they're 14, they're probably not going to be," Nash says, and statistics for the kids who age out without help are "appalling," as far as their futures are concerned.

That's where the Fostering Futures program steps in.

"We want to teach them basic life skills, like how to schedule a doctor's appointment," Nash says, "make a budget, look for a job or apartment -- how to know what they can afford."

All kids have different needs to help them transition from foster care to successful adulthood, Nash says, and to bring that about, they need volunteers.

"We have a very small paid staff," Nash says. "I'm the director, and we have two volunteer coordinators who work with volunteers in helping them work with the kids."

It's not that the coordinators don't work with the kids, because they do, Nash says. "Our goal is to have advocates working for the children, coordinators helping the volunteers and providing staff support."

Volunteer Amanda Huber says she feels the work she does is important. "Several of the children in foster care have gone through tremendous trauma. Seeing them make it through the foster care process to come out the other side and grow to be successful, all because they had a voice to advocate for them, that's what makes it worth it. All children deserve a voice and a chance to be successful," she says.

Last year, Voices for Children/CASA served 103 children with 45 volunteers.

That sounds great, Nash says, but the problem is, there are about 375 children in the three-county area covered by the 32nd judicial circuit -- Cape Girardeau, Perry and Bollinger Counties.

Volunteers have specific duties, Nash says. A volunteer first meets the child and learns as much as possible about them, whether that means talking to parents or guardians, teachers or daycare workers, counselors or anyone else.

The volunteer writes a report about the child, which may be the only documentation on the child's background the judge sees, Nash says.

Volunteers facilitate delivery of service, such as counseling or mental health services as well.

The actual advocacy is what everything else builds up to, Nash says.

"Working with these children, getting them in a position to get into a safe, permanent home is a team effort," Nash says. The juvenile officer, the guardian ad litem or attorney for the child, biological or foster parents, all work together as much as possible to bring about a positive outcome for the child.

"Obviously, the judge won't be able to go out and collect information on what's in the best interest of the child, so the goal is, everyone else does that for him, then reports," Nash says.

"CASA volunteers have more time than a children's division worker, who have huge caseloads. Same thing with the juvenile officer. Attorneys are busy with their own clients, and don't have a lot of time to spend," Nash says.

Volunteers also monitor the case until it's resolved, which happens when the court terminates jurisdiction, Nash says, but that's not necessarily the end of the volunteer's CASA relationship with the child. If the parent or guardian approves, the volunteer can remain part of the child's life.

Nash says her main reason for working with CASA is she taught at Jackson public schools for 31 years, and in that time, she saw foster kids come through the system. "They were almost rootless," she says. "They'd come in mid-year, leave before the year was over, in and out, didn't really have a connection in many cases with the kids in school, with anybody. You see that and it's very heartrending.

"Who advocates for you, as a child?" Nash asks. "Usually, a parent. These kids, in most cases, they're taken away from their parents. The kids really need an advocate, and CASA can provide that advocacy. What we do is hugely important. We have to get more volunteers so we can do this for more kids."

Volunteers receive 30 hours of training in the national CASA curriculum, Nash says, with 15 hours of online training and another 15 of classroom work in their building at 937 Broadway in Cape Girardeau.

One class is coming up, beginning at the end of August, and another will start in October.

Anyone interested in learning more is asked to call Voices for Children/CASA at (573) 335-1726.

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