Fifty children died from abuse and neglect in Missouri in 2007, ranking the state fifth in such deaths nationwide, according to the Every Child Matters Educational Fund. Child abuse is a societal problem with so many causes and responses that entire agencies, professions and organizations have been created to address it. Their efforts are valiant but they are overwhelmed and understaffed. Funding is scarce, and turnover is chronic. The system is imperfect. Some children slip through the cracks. We, the general public, would be naïve – even irresponsible – to rely solely on the professionals to prevent child abuse. We are all responsible for the well-being of Missouri’s children.
One need not possess expertise to positively impact the lives and futures of our most vulnerable children. Opportunities abound for those wishing to make a difference. One such opportunity exists through Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA trains volunteers to advocate in juvenile court for children who are removed from abusive homes and placed in foster care. Imagine being whisked out of your home at the age of 5 carrying only your teddy bear (if you’re lucky), separated from siblings and not knowing when or if you’ll see them again. CASA volunteers become guardian angels for these children during a scary and turbulent time.
Currently there are approximately 1,300 CASA volunteers serving roughly 2,200 children in Missouri. These lay citizens commit their time and tenacity to ensure that their “CASA kids” receive appropriate services, spend as little time as possible in the system and ultimately land in safe and secure homes.
But 7,200 foster children in Missouri do not have a CASA. The Missouri CASA Association strives to expand CASA services throughout the state by supporting 21 existing local programs and creating new programs in unserved areas.
No single person or group can eradicate child abuse. But if each of us makes some modest contribution – time, money, anything – together we can send every foster child in Missouri a guardian angel.
For information about supporting CASA or becoming a volunteer, visit www.mocasa.net or call 256-1445.
Megan Phillips is president of the Board of Directors for the Missouri CASA Association