May is designated as National Foster Care Month. We have a growing need to find the help and support needed by many children and families. In our nation, there are more than 400,000 children receiving foster care.
The state of Georgia had 14,000 children in Foster Care last year. That is a dramatic increase from 2010 when there were just over 8,000 in our state. There are several reasons, I feel for this growth. Perhaps we are reaching more children that need foster care. There is also the factor of increasing pressure on families.
Also, I would add, there is a dramatic decrease in institutions such as children homes and orphanages that provided the traditional way of dealing with many of the families and children. Now it is understood that, in most cases, the family setting is far better than the institutional.
To make the challenge even more local. There are 108 children and youth in foster care in Newton County. As we prepare to observe a month in May to talk about what this means, I want to challenge you to find a way to be involved and to make a difference in a child’s life.
For a variety of reasons, children and youth find their lives shattered by circumstances that mean they no longer can safely live in their home. There are systems in place through the Department of Family and Children’s Services and the courts to find help. The challenge to the community is how we can help make this experience better. How could you be a part of helping bring new hope to a hard situation.
Of course, you could inquire about being a foster parent. But another way is to become a part of CASA. There is in our county, the Alcovy CASA, which serves Newton and Walton County. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Let me say, those who serve in this way are many times the one constant part of the foster child or youth’s life. And it is not nearly as intense as being a Foster Parent but just as important.
The history of CASA dates to 1977 when a Superior Court Judge in Seattle found himself struggling to make decisions on behalf of abused and neglected children without enough information. He came up with the idea of finding community volunteers to speak up for the best interest of the children that were brought before him. Today there are 59,000 in almost a thousand CASA like units across the nation. The name may vary by location, but the mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. To help build a foundation for a life that has been shaken. Since the start of CASA, more than two million children have been helped.
The number one qualification to be a CASA volunteer is to sincerely care for the well-being of children. You must be able to be objective and non-judgmental. You must be over 21, and good communication skills, both verbal and written, are needed. A minimum commitment of one year is required.
Volunteer advocates come from every walk of life. No previous training or experience is required. If you volunteer for the program and are accepted, you will be provided with 40 hours of training. Each incoming class will help structure the schedule that best fits their needs.
The CASA volunteers make a difference in the lives of the children and youth they serve. Those in Foster Care, who have an Advocate spend, on the average, eight fewer months in foster care. Another way the impact is seen is the child or youth with an Advocate is five times less likely to change Foster Homes. Those in the program have already seen their world very shaken by whatever caused them to be in the program. And when they have to change foster homes, it means most of the time a change of schools, teachers, friends, foster siblings, therapists, doctors, and dentist.
The average amount of time commitment for an Advocate is around six hours a month. Training takes 40 hours before one is sworn in by the juvenile court judge. Your commitment is for a least one year and hopefully on the case you assigned to is solved. The staff of CASA, who are right here in Covington, are always there to give you advise and support.
As I said there are 108 children in foster care in Newton Country. These are our neighbors, our children. The CASA program in Newton has 33 volunteers serving 67 children in foster care. You can do the math, if we have 108 foster children and only 67 are being served, we need more to step up and be willing to touch lives in ways that will build a better world for the children, families and yourself. You can get more information from the local CASA website, www.alcovycasa.org. Or by contacting Lindsey Tyner, the Executive Director at 678-6225-1246.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.