Who speaks for the child in need of an advocate?
During the past 18 months, a growing number of dedicated adults have stepped forward to advance the best interests of a child navigating the complex, and often confusing, judicial system.
Last week, six more adults joined the existing 16 volunteers who serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
The growth of the program is a testament to its virtue, because serving as a CASA volunteer requires a commitment of time and training.
A CASA volunteer works with the juvenile court, other juvenile agencies and guardian ad litem to decide what is best for a child who has been placed in the court system through no fault of his or her own.
To be eligible, a volunteer must be age 18 or older and pass a criminal background check.
But the volunteer also must care about the welfare of children and complete a 10-week, 40-hour training that includes classroom work and observing the workings of the court.
The training requires a commitment, but it is "essential," observed Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, who works with the program. "You are exposed to issues that are unfamiliar to you, systems that are unfamiliar to you and, hopefully, problems that are unfamiliar to you."
The next training session will begin in the spring, although a date has not yet been set. Anyone interested in CASA may contact Executive Director Jim Kellerman at 635-7524.
Serving as a CASA volunteer is not for everyone.
But people willing to make a personal commitment to advocate on behalf of a child are a welcome and needed addition to a growing group of CASA volunteers.