For children in the foster care system, having someone in your corner is more than reassurance and support. It means having someone to help you on your journey home.
Court Appointed Special Advocates stand beside children and represent their best interests to a judge. Yet, hundreds of children in the foster care system in Sebastian County do not have an advocate.
As of December 2021, there were about 490 kids in the foster care system in Sebastian County. Currently, Sebastian County Court Appointed Special Advocates has 66 volunteers.
“We really need to double our number of volunteers because every child needs a CASA volunteer to watch out for them, to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks of an overloaded foster system,” said Mary Ann Craig, executive director of Sebastian County CASA.
The role of the advocate begins with building a relationship with the child. The role expands across the child’s support network – meeting with the foster parents, lawyers, teachers, doctors and therapists to formulate recommendations for services. The advocate then makes recommendations about the child’s placement and necessary services to the judge.
“When kids experience abuse, neglect or trauma, it impacts their physical and mental health and their academic achievement,” Craig said. “These CASA volunteers, in a nutshell, are advocating for the very best interests of these children.”
Advocates walk alongside children who have faced immense trauma, often being the only consistent person in their lives. Craig shared that one CASA volunteer, who has served for 15 years, worked with one child through multiple placements, schools and caseworkers until they transitioned out of foster care.
Although it may not be possible in every case, Craig said the organization works with the courts to stay in their home of origin if it is a safe placement.
Throughout the process, the Sebastian County CASA staff supports volunteers every step of the way.
“These poor kids, they just need somebody to watch out for them,” Craig said.
Become a CASA volunteer
Those interested in becoming a CASA volunteer will first need to set up a time to meet with the CASA staff to see if they would be in a good fit prior to training.
Volunteers must be at least 21 years old and pass a background check. They also must be able to commit to volunteering at least 10 to 15 hours per month.
The next six-week training opportunity will start at 5:30 pm May 31 and be hosted at the CASA Sebastian County Office, 1216 Towson Ave. at Fort Smith.
Craig said the training will involve a self-guided learning curriculum and weekly meetings, and it will cover all aspects of the foster care system and the impact of trauma on children. Those who complete the training will then be sworn in by a judge.
For more information and to set up an initial meeting, call 479-785-4171.