Child Advocacy Services (CASA) is appealing for volunteers to serve as an advocate for a foster child.
In St. Charles Parish, three children need an advocate, which CASA Recruiter Donna Bliss described as a constant vital need although the number of children with this need is rising. CASA serves 10 parishes, including St. Charles Parish, where there greater volunteer shortfalls with as many as 40 children on a waiting list.
When the assignments came in December in the parish, Bliss said there were three more than available volunteers.
“All parishes struggle with getting enough volunteers,” Bliss said. “It’s like the Red Cross needing volunteers, except you’re representing a child. You’re on the ground providing relief for a child in the foster care system.”
But she also pointed out children being served in the parish has grown 25 to 30 percent in the past two years.
Although she said CASA tries hard to not allow it to happen, there are cases that have closed without an advocate for a child.
“It’s a possibility that could occur in St. Charles Parish,” Bliss said.
Although the state continues to work on these cases, a child without an advocate would not get the personal attention those with an advocate get, she said. When Bliss served as an advocate, she recalled ensuring the child got needed help in available programs and personal needs in foster care.
“Sometimes we fail children because we don’t listen to them,” she said. “It could be as simple as listening to what they have to say.”
An advocate must legally be a volunteer, Bliss said. This person must be unbiased, unpaid and impartial to ensure their recommendations only reflect the child’s needs. Founded in the early 1980s, judges wanted an advocacy program to aid them in making informed decisions for the child.
A volunteer typically provides four to five hours a month, which includes making a child visit. Training is provided with a minimum one-year commitment requested because Bliss said that’s typically how long it takes to work with a child, but some volunteers have stayed with the program for years.
Bliss started as a CASA volunteer and knows what it takes to be an advocate.
“It’s a scary time,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how old the child is. They might go to school one day and then not be able to go home.”
Advocates are sought with compassion for this work, she said. A CASA person also shadows volunteers to walk them through the process.
Overall, CASA has 200 volunteers in its service area with 14 of them in St. Charles Parish. It’s one child per volunteer.
CASA is asking local pastors to make presentations inviting volunteers.
To volunteer, contact Donna Bliss at (985) 902-9583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.