Eight people — seven women and a man — made up the latest class of volunteers who became Court Appointed Special Advocates.
There are too few men who participate in the program, Circuit Judge Jon Beetem told the new volunteers and their families during a swearing-in ceremony Thursday night.
“I’m always excited when we get men to be CASAs,” Beetem said. “Because a universal theme with kids (in court) is they have no daddies.”
CASA is a volunteer-powered network of people from all walks of life who believe society has a fundamental obligation to make certain children thrive, are treated with dignity, and are kept safe, according to the Capital City CASA website.
CASA volunteers, appointed by judges, watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children. They try to make sure the children don’t get lost in overburdened legal and social service systems or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers remain on their clients’ cases until the children are placed in safe, permanent homes.
“We’re in a big upswing of kids,” Beetem told the new advocates. “I just took one about four minutes ago. It’s a very sad situation.”
The court business is pretty much “garbage in, garbage out,” Beetem explained. If he doesn’t get good information, he can’t make the best decisions possible for the children.
CASA volunteers provide better information.
“Part of it is people don’t see you as the court official that they see the (Missouri Department of Social Services) Children’s Division worker or the juvenile officer. Part of it is that your approach to these kids is just loving and caring and looking out for their best interests,” Beetem said. “And you’re not burdened by some of the technical or constitutional things that I’ve got to deal with.”
The reports CASAs send to him are useful and help him know which questions to ask. They give a different perspective of what’s going on, he added.
There are about 150 children in the county’s court system who require CASA attention currently.
After the new volunteers were sworn in, Capital City CASA Executive Director Gina Clement thanked them and their families for the sacrifices they were making.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to the families for giving up your loved ones,” Clement said. “As the judge said, we’ve got a lot of kids who need some help.”
Betty Uxa, of Jefferson City, said she felt a calling to help children in the court.
A retired pediatric nurse practitioner, she “kind of knew where they were coming from,” Uxa said. “But, I didn’t know the court angle, so this was an eye-opener.”
As a CASA, Uxa said she’d be able to observe children and see how they act in certain situations. She can pass that information on to the court.
Kelley Ogletree said she’s grateful to have grown up in central Missouri with the support of family.
She said she became aware of CASA through the United Way of Central Missouri. The company she works for is a United Way “pacesetter” — one of 32 partner businesses and agencies that typically raise about half its fundraising goal.
“I wanted to give back and couldn’t think of a better way than to help a child in need,” Ogletree said.
Not all children who have grown up in central Missouri have had the good fortune to have caring, supportive families, Beetem said.
He’s been a judge in the system for 12 years, Beetem told the new CASA class. And, he’s beginning to see a second generation of children come through the system.
“We’re not lacking for work,” he said.
Capital City CASA seeks volunteers to become advocates for children in the court system. Volunteers must be 21 and submit to a background check. For more information, contact the office at 573-893-2272.