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State increases funding for courtroom advocates for children

by Joe Gamm | July 16, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

The state's budget for this year is boosting support for children in foster care.

State spending designated for Missouri's Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) has increased 76 percent, going from $500,000 last fiscal year to $880,000 this year.

CASA is a line item in Missouri's state courts budget.

The statewide CASA association proposed the increase as a means to bolster volunteer advocacy for children who have experienced abuse and neglect throughout the state. The funding will be used to start new CASA programs in Missouri and increase the service capacity of its current programs.

Capital City CASA is one of 24 CASA programs across the state that engages community volunteers to provide best-interest advocacy for children in foster care who have experienced abuse or neglect, according to an association news release.

The effort involves volunteers visiting children and learning about their lives and placement, and engaging with caregivers and other community members to best understand the child's case. Volunteers collaborate with other members of the child's family support team, and make recommendations on behalf of the child in court reports for juvenile judges. CASA volunteers are the judges' eyes and ears outside the courtroom.

In calendar year 2021, Capital City CASA served more than 200 abused and neglected children with 78 volunteer advocates and staff. More children in Cole County still need your help, CASA officials said. The organization's next training class is starting soon. To learn more or to volunteer with Capital City CASA, email Carrie DeSimone, volunteer recruiter and outreach coordinator, at [email protected] or visit capitalcitycasa.org.

Children with a CASA volunteer are historically more likely to receive needed services and do better in school, and are less likely to re-enter the foster care system at a later date, according to the association.

CASA volunteers provide much-needed consistency for a child or older youth in the foster care system. Their lives can be fraught with past traumas, fear, anger and turbulence. Volunteers provide a voice for these children, the association says.

CASA programs use state funds with an effective model -- one paid staff member can engage and support up to 30 community volunteers, who often advocate for as many as 60 children.

CASA has expanded its service area within the state over the past several years -- starting new programs in Joplin, Farmington and New Madrid. Community members have hit the ground running to make CASA a reality throughout Missouri, according to the CASA news release.

The ultimate goal is to provide CASA volunteers for every child within the state who has experienced abuse or neglect.

The budget increase is timely, as instances of child abuse and neglect in the state remain high. At any given time, there are around 14,000 children in foster care in Missouri, with an annual cumulative number of around 20,000 children, according to the Missouri Children's Division Annual Report for 2021.

Local programs need more volunteers to provide advocacy for children in foster care. CASA only has the capacity to serve about 30 percent of the children in care at any given time.

Print Headline: State increases funding for courtroom advocates for children

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