Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of South Central Missouri made history recently by swearing in 54 new advocates to provide voices for children in the 25th Judicial Circuit. This is the largest group to enter service in the history of Missouri.
“We have doubled in size over the past two years,” said CASA Executive Director Mathew Evans. “I took some time to speak to my peers in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield to see how big their classes have been, and as far as any of them knew, they’ve never had a number as big as ours.”
CASA of South Central Missouri serves children in the care of the court from the 25th Judicial Circuit’s four-county area of Phelps, Pulaski, Texas and Maries counties. In 2017 when Evans was hired as the Executive Director, he described the caseload volume here as a rude awakening. With 687 children in the court’s care, the 25th Circuit’s caseload is comparable with Missouri’s largest population centers.
“However, today we celebrate 54 new opportunities for happy memories,” Evans said at the graduation ceremony held at the Parish Hall of Christ Episcopal Church. “We celebrate 54 voices coming together tonight to change the story for so many children in need. Most of these kids haven’t had any happy memories.”
Evans said that even with this historic number of volunteers completing the training, there are still 200 children without a CASA to represent them. So, the need for CASA volunteers continues, especially with the opioid epidemic.
Associate Circuit Judge Mark Calvert presided over the swearing in of the volunteers. “Your role is to tell us what you are thinking,” he said as he addressed the volunteers. “We really need to know everything about each case. You know things about the child that we don’t know. Your insight is critical.”
Dilek Acar, Broker-Owner of Acar Real Estate shared her personal story with the volunteers of her own experience of abuse as a child and the challenges she has faced during her life as a result of those early years.
Leanne Reese of the Missouri CASA Association, also attended the event. “It is overwhelming when you see a community like this embrace the CASA mission and commit to helping the kids in need of support,” she said.
The goal of the CASA of South Central Missouri is to have a volunteer represent every child in foster care. “With your help,” Evans told the group, ”we can spread the word that this is important. These children need our community and they need our voices. We are fortunate to have a community who steps up when our children need us. We don’t want a child to go without having a voice.”