Standing up for the Kids—Court Appointed Special Advocates - Court Appointed Special Advocates page 2

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A Lack of Resources

According to Seidl, CASA volunteers are typically assigned the most complex cases “including those with prior maltreatment or contact with the child welfare system; cases of extreme neglect, physical or sexual abuse; and cases where children have a higher level of risk.” He also indicates that parental substance abuse is a contributing factor in 70 percent of cases. This is something volunteers should be emotionally prepared for.

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Approximately 4,700 children are currently in Maryland’s child welfare system. Sadly, there are not enough CASA volunteers to ensure each child has representation. “CASA programs in Maryland had the capacity to reach just 20 percent of children in the state’s child welfare system this past year,” says Seidl, “leaving roughly 4 out of 5 with no advocate speaking up for their best interests. This insufficient capacity means that children may languish in the child welfare system for longer periods of time, increasing the likelihood of other social problems.”

Seidl is not discounting the contributions of the many compassionate professionals (attorneys, social workers, mental health professionals, etc.) who work on behalf of these children. It is just the reality that these professionals often have too many children in their caseloads and not enough time to devote adequate attention to each child.

Making a Difference

Is it worth the time and emotional commitment it takes to be a CASA volunteer? After 11 years of volunteering, Howe emphatically says yes. “There are a lot of wounded kids out there who just really need someone that they feel like they can look in the eyes and trust and believe in, because the people that they believed in the most in their lives have let them down.”

A few years ago, Howe’s cell phone rang. It was her very first CASA kid, whom she met when he was in middle school, at a low point in his life when he felt betrayed by his mother and had suffered emotional turmoil no child should experience. Now an adult, he called and said, “I know we haven’t talked in years, I still had your number and I just wanted to call and let you know that every once in awhile, something will come up, and I hear your words, and I just want to thank you for taking the time to believe in me, to stand by me, and I want you to know it made a difference.”

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