We have a crises in our state. There are 13,000 children who are separated from their families in Georgia. They are in state custody due to neglect, abandonment, or abuse. What we all take for granted in the stability of home is not a part of their world. The number of these children has doubled in the past five years. In Newton County alone, there are 160 children in foster care.
These children range in age from new born to eighteen years of age. For their safe being, they can’t remain in their homes. Unfortunately there is a need to separate them from their families There is a system of foster care homes that the Department of Family and Children’s Services has in place where these children are placed. But because of the demand on the system, there is great need than ever for volunteer support.
One way you can get involved is volunteer to be a part of the Alcovy Apointed Special Advocates for Children. You can get more information at www.alcovycasa.org or 678-6235-1246.
When a CASA volunteer is assigned to a child, the purpose is to give the child a voice and chance for a better life. In fact a child without a CASA volunteer is twice as likely to remain in the foster care system and not find a permanent home.
You might ask, “What is expected of a volunteer to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate?” First be assured you will get the training you need to be effective. You must be willing to be a part of a training program offered by the Alcovy CASA. You will be asked to spend some time with the child assigned to you. You will become the one constant for the child you are assigned to. You become the eyes and ears of the court. You come with only one goal, “What is best for this child.”
When you first hear this challenge, you might think it takes a great deal of special training. What it takes is a compassionate heart that cares. A willingness to get down to a child’s level and help them know they have been heard. The CASA volunteers becomes a rock in a shifting world. Over the time that you work with the child assigned to you, you may be the only one who is a constant.
To help put a face on what it means to be a CASA volunteer, let me share the story of a friend here in Covington who is a volunteer in Alcovy CASA. For the sake of this telling, I will call her “Susanna”. After she received her training, she was assigned her first child. This child, we shall call “Butterfly” for the sake of this telling.
A little back ground on Butterfly. She and two siblings for their safety and wellbeing had to be removed from their parents and were placed with grandparents. When the grandparents could no longer care for the three, they went to live with a great uncle. After a while this uncle kept Butterfly’s two siblings but turned Butterfly over to the foster system. Think with me, how shattering this would be to be to one who was then nine years old and removed from her siblings and family. The one who was unwanted and had to go live with strangers. There was enough stress in this that Butterfly had to be placed first in a foster home and then two different therapeutic settings.
Into this situation stepped Susanna. She made an appointment to meet Butterfly. When she kept the appointment and introduced herself, Butterfly made no response. After a time of silence Susanna told Butterfly, she would be back and she didn’t expect anything of her, but that she cared for her and would b back. This went on for months until Butterfly began to speak. In fact when Susanna visited a group that butterfly was a part of, she introduced her as my “Grandma.” The key that made this huge change possible was steadfastness and patience on the part of the CASA volunteer.
In the eight years that Susanna worked with Butterfly she was the only constant in her life. The bond that was built between the two led to Butterfly being able to be more open to the world. You can see this is a poem that Butterfly wrote. We get a glimpse into the soul of young person who had been through many hard situations.
Ever watched someone step on
A butterfly’s wings or have someone
Take one of your things.
Thought you saw the truth in someone’s
Eyes then your find out it all was a lie.
Ever had someone change from a
Friend to a foe? As the world around
You is stuck on “go”.
You want to keep on dreaming a
Wonderful dream to realize later
It’s not what it seems.
You wanted to run but found out
You can’t hide. In a room where
There’s no one by your side.
I’ve been where you’ve been
I’ve seen what you’ve seen
So please take my advice for your life
Please take care. What you have
Now might not always be there.
The bond that was built between Susanna and Butterfly led to Susanna’s Sunday School Class “adopting” Butterfly. They would send gifs and cards for birthdays and holidays. Of course, they never met Butterfly for privacy sake, but they became a part of Butterfly’s world.
As I write this column I wish I had a better ending. The truth is that despite the best of care, Butterfly lost her battle with two serious diseases and died. But think with me for a moment what a great gift she had been given by her CASA volunteer. She died knowing someone cared.
Indeed we have a crises in our state and our community with the need to bring stability to young lives whose world is shaken to the point of being shattered. When a volunteer steps forward to be trained, the effect is lift up a child’s voice and make a turn in that child’s life. It makes a great difference in that child’s life.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.