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CASA puts children's needs first
Thirteen new champions for children joined the ranks of selfless volunteers in Southeast Missouri Monday afternoon at a swearing-in ceremony for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA is a remarkable program, supported by the United Way in this area, that provides lay advocates for children whose troubled families find themselves before our court system. The CASA volunteer, who undergoes comprehensive training, is charged with protecting the best interests of the child, which may not always be the course of action the parents of the child want.
Too many children in our community find themselves in the middle of devastating abuse cases or the victims of neglect. Dealing with these situations is rarely simple, and CASA volunteers can quickly become worn out, which is why celebrating those who make the time and emotional commitments to service is so important.
At the swearing-in ceremony, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Limbaugh delivered the keynote address. Limbaugh was instrumental in helping found CASA in this area 10 years ago, and it was clear that his words were heartfelt. Talking about the children who need help, his voice often caught.
"How do you alter the cycle of abuse?" Limbaugh asked. "Send a parent away from the kids? Or give her treatment with the attendant risk she may cause more harm to the child?"
While highlighting the modern plights of many children -- "an ongoing threat more pervasive than today's terrorism" -- Limbaugh consistently and optimistically underlined the many improvements in government policy over the past 10 years. Foremost, he indicated, was the change promulgated during the Clinton years to make the paramount concern of legal decision making the best interests of the child rather than the reunification of the family.
Limbaugh lamented the filling up of new prisons in the state at greater expense to taxpayers. The best -- and most cost-effective -- solution, he said, was to shatter the cycle by working on the front lines with children before they are lost. With the hard work of volunteers like CASA, adoption rates are increasing in Missouri and the need for new jails and prisons is diminishing, he said.
Also praised by Limbaugh was the increased specialized training, now mandatory, for family-court judges. One judge who recently went through the training was Judge Peter Statler, who did the official swearing-in of the CASA volunteers. "I think we'll keep you busy -- unfortunately," he told those assembled.
CASA is administered by a professional staff led by Pam Jenkins with an oversight board headed by Tiffany Parker. The 13 new champions for children are Mary Elizabeth Ambery, Darlene Daniel, Betty Hill, Vicki Lowell, Evelyn Matlock, Julie Pastrick, Helen Schmidt, Paula Sedgwick, Jane Sides, Tina Vacca, Susan Watkins, Dian Watz and Jeanne Wells. They join a dedicated veteran group of volunteers, including Opal Aden, Dorothy Bruce, Lynne Chambers, Betty Craft, Jane Cox, Joan Drury, Rika Gaylord, Debbie Heise, Kevin Holtzhouser, Diane Jamieson, Carolyn LaFentres, Charla Myers, Eileen Schlichting, Sandra Schmidt, Cynthia Schmoll, Maria Sessions, John Simpson, Carroll Waldo, Brenda Walker, Betty Weber and Judy Wilfong.
During this time when we are celebrating the heroes of our society who work on the front lines to make our communities safe and secure, let us also give thanks to the members of CASA.
Jon K. Rust is co-president of Rust Communications.