Four women and a man took their oaths Thursday night as Jefferson City's new Court Appointed Special Advocates.
The new class raises the number of advocates in Capital City CASA to more than 60, said Gina Clement, the organization's executive director.
But, that's still not enough.
As of Thursday, the advocates had about 130 children they represent in courtrooms.
CASA is a volunteer-powered network of people from all walks of life who believe society has a fundamental obligation to make certain the 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 client's cases until the children are placed in safe, permanent homes, according to casaforchildren.org.
Capital City CASA seeks volunteers to become advocates for children in the court system. Training for the next class of advocates begins in April, Clement said. Volunteers must be 21 and submit to a background check. For more information, contact the office at 573-893-2272.
"We're always getting new kids," Clement said. "We're always looking for new volunteers."
New advocates are trained to stay objective, collect facts and report the facts to the court.
"It's intensive training," Clement said. "We want to be certain we're serving as many kids as possible."
The newest volunteers received their "diplomas" in a ceremony in the Cole County Circuit Court's main courtroom.
Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, who supervises the advocates, told them that not only are the children they serve going to be affected by their work, but so are the advocates' families.
He said after they start, the volunteers would go home and say, "Oh, my gosh. Look what happened today." No one's going to believe them because the stories are sometimes so disturbing.
He told them to stick to it, though because the children need them.
"I need kids to see successful adults," Beetem said. "The biggest problem I can see in juvenile court is that there are no parents. And the parents that they have — while biologically qualified to be parents — don't know how to be a parent."
On top of that, children don't know what they want and need.
Beetem had a young person show up in court dressed in a chef's uniform. Another time, the boy "wanted to be a rodeo guy," Beetem said. Most recently, he took a blood test to see if he qualifies for the U.S. Army.
"I want him to go and try things," Beetem said. "And if that works for him, I think it would be very good for him."
It helps to have people from all walks of life mentoring the children.
"Statistically, people in this room dealt with abuse and neglect as a child," he said. "For some of you, that's your motivation for being involved in what we're doing."
It was a motivation for Sharon Golden who said when she was a child surviving an abusive home, CASA wasn't available.
"They didn't do this at all," she said.
And now she has the opportunity to provide some comfort for children. But, it took training.
The advocates attended three-hour team meetings every Tuesday night. They sat in on court cases. They had meetings with the Children's Division of the Department of Social Services during training.
And they went home with a lot of homework, she said.
"You've got a team of people behind you," Golden said. "There are a lot of people there to help."