Destrehan-based nonprofit Child Advocacy Services (CAS), as part of a national network of similar nonprofits, has worked tirelessly to advocate for a targeted group of younger residents with special needs – local foster children living in the River Region.
“We operate two individual programs through an umbrella agency structure, one being the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program, and one being the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC),” Jordyn G’Sell, Prevention Services Coordinator with CAS’ Destrehan office, said. “We also offer prevention education and resources as part of our CAC Program.”
CAS offers advocacy, clinical services, and prevention education for children and families in 10 parishes, with the local CAS Destrehan office servicing three of those parishes in the River Region: St. John, St. James and St. Charles Parishes. The local Destrehan office is part of a national CASA network operating in 49 states, with 931 programs active across the country. Within Louisiana alone there are 16 additional CASA programs offering similar services.
The CAS group’s CASA division is perhaps the best-known division of its organization, relying on its core group of trained volunteers to act as court-appointed advocates for local foster children.
“CASA is the only volunteer program where the individual becomes an extension of the court,” G’Sell said. “They become the eyes and ears of the judge, all while being unbiased and impartial to make recommendations to the judge on behalf of the child’s best interest.”
Foster children have unique challenges an average child does not experience, which CASA aims to address. A typical family household normally includes supportive adults who are always there to help advocate for their children. Foster children that have been physically removed from their biological parents lose that advocacy, G’Sell said, which is where CASA steps in to help.
“A CASA volunteer becomes that caring and competent adult advocating for that child’s best interest,” G’Sell explained. “Though a CASA child might be placed into a loving and caring foster home, the foster parents are not present in the court hearings, therefore the responsibility lies on the CASA volunteer to pass along any pertinent information.”
The typical foster child experiences multiple foster family placements, often resulting in detachment issues, insecurity and anxiety. In many cases when a CASA volunteer is assigned to a foster child, G’Sell said it often serves as a steady, calming influence despite other life disruptions they may encounter.
“The importance of a CASA [volunteer] is in fact the consistency they bring,” G’Sell said. “Not only that, but it has been shown that a foster child with a CASA significantly lessens the likelihood of multiple placements.”
CAS’s Destrehan office is currently seeking additional CASA volunteers to help the local area’s foster children. Each volunteer must be 21 years or older, complete a background check as well as complete the CASA Volunteer Training program, which consists of both in-person and web-based training.
“We currently have 19 active volunteers in the River Region, but ideally need about 16 more,” G’Sell said. “It would be truly amazing to have more volunteers, not only to ‘lessen the workload’ so to speak of our current CASAs, but also because we need to take into account the human element involved – our CASAs may go through life changes of their own; moving, taking on a new job, etc. that may take them off the case for those reasons.”
Over the course of the past few years, G’Sell says her local office has seen an increase in children in care, but a much slower increase in volunteers being trained.
For more information on CAS or on to learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer, visit them on the web at www.childadv.net, or contact local CASA Recruiter Donna Bliss via email at email@example.com.