Program June 2012 – A Powerful Voice for a Child in Foster Care

June 7, 2012

A Powerful Voice for a Child in Foster Care

Speakers: Jan Huneke, Chief Executive Officer, Voices for Children; Cheryl Latham, Program Director, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and Carol MacDonald, CASA Volunteer

Few issues tug at the heart as much as the plight of children locked in the child welfare system. “These children are not safe at home, and most have suffered multiple types of abuse and neglect,” Jan Huneke, CEO of Voices for Children, told WV members at the June 7 meeting. Several months ago, Voices for Children and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) merged to help coordinate advocacy services for the nearly 2,500 St. Louis City and County children receiving foster care. Currently, CASA has enough volunteers to serve about 30 percent of the children in the system. Ultimately, the goal is to help every child live in a safe, permanent home where he or she has the opportunity to thrive. Sometimes that’s in an adoptive home, sometimes it’s back with a parent or parents who’ve proven they can provide a safe, stable environment.

CASA volunteers contribute to this process by doing what no one else does: Their sole responsibility is to represent the children’s best interests. Inside the courtroom, they speak for the children. Outside the courtroom, they are often the one constant presence in these children’s lives, the adult who listens, who speaks up for them, who lets them know that they can have a good future and that people care about their troubles.

Children in the overburdened child welfare system often fall through the cracks. Too often, they “age out,” without ever being part of a permanent, nurturing family. On average, a child in foster care will:

  • Remain the system for at least 3 years
  • Move at least 3 times, often more frequently
  • Attend 9 different schools by age 18

Foster children are at higher risk for homelessness, teen pregnancy, incarceration, unemployment, mental illness, and repeating the cycle of abuse with their own children.

The June 7 program included a brief video that effectively illustrated the unique way CASA volunteers help these children navigate the system they’ve been thrown into. WV board member Lise Bernstein was one of the CASA volunteers featured in the video. The young girls Lise worked with, sisters who’ve now been placed in a permanent adoptive home, are fully aware of the difference CASA and Lise made in their lives. “She brought back a big chunk of my heart,” said one sister.

Children with a CASA advocate:

  • Spend significantly less time in foster care – the average case lasts 18 months
  • Are more likely to be adopted
  • Are as likely to be reunified with their family
  • Are much less likely to re-enter foster care
  • Receive more services; their parents do, too

In fact, 90% of children with CASA advocates find safe, permanent homes. WV members and visitors peppered the panel with questions about the 25-hour CASA volunteer training program, the ongoing time commitment (an average of 10 to 12 hours a month) and ways CASAs interact with the children, their teachers, foster and birth families and the courts. For more information, visit, 314-552-2352; or call Cheryl Latham, CASA program director, 314-615-4506.