In a small space at 1103 Matthews St. in Springfield sits a non-profit operated by a two-person staff, working with more than a dozen or so volunteers.
The objective is big, according to its executive director, one that has been in motion since the non-profit opened in 2004.
That mission, as described on its Facebook page, “is to give a voice to all abused and neglected children in our county by loving them, speaking up for their best interests and giving them hope for the future.”
It all comes down to this: working to ensure every child served in Robertson County has a loving, safe and permanent home, according to Kristin King, executive director of CASA of Robertson County (Court Appointed Special Advocates).
King, who works alongside advocate supervisor Leah Blocker, said CASA of Robertson County currently serves 24 children. An advocate is assigned to a child or sibling group, who participates in home visits at least once monthly.
“Most of our advocates go well beyond that,” King explained. “They get to know that child in his or her entirety. Where DCS (Department of Children’s Services) is focused on what brought the child into custody, an advocate focuses on the entirety of the systems they interact with.”
For instance, King said, in the case of a child who has been physically abused, an advocate will not only become knowledgeable about what is going on in his or her life, but will determine how that may be impacting other areas like school work, medical issues — even social interactions.
CASA reports its findings to the court and makes recommendations on what it believes the child needs to be successful, she said.
Advocates learn about who their teachers are, what they like — even their favorite books and superheroes, King explained — getting to know the children in their entirety to be knowledgeable about how to best help them become successful.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just been playing with Play-Doh (during a home visit) and talking. And we learn a lot about the kids through their foster parents,” King said.
The goal for advocates, she said, is reunifying the family, when possible. King explained that while the focus is on the kids, CASA also helps parents stay compliant with what DCS expects from them.
During The Connection’s interview with King, she shared additional details about CASA of Robertson County and what needs it may have:
How many volunteers does CASA of Robertson County currently have serving and who is eligible to become an advocate?
“Too few. We currently have 14. Far too few. (To volunteer) you need to be at least 21 years old. We’ve never had anyone that young, but you can be. Have a clean background check. It’s not easy, so you need to have a thick skin. You have to have that. But anyone with a desire to help children can come in, and we train them. At the end of the day, aside from the requirements, it’s open to anyone. We have teachers, insurance agents; you name it.”
What kind of training do advocates go through prior to working with a child?
“We go through 30 hours of training, usually over a four-week period. Some of it is lecture-style, some is done through activities. Toward the end of training, we do practices — some with scenarios you have to go through. We practice the report writing as well. We do it here at CASA.”
What other ways, besides becoming advocates, can the community help support CASA’s efforts?
“Donate. I hate to say that, but it is — just keeping daily operations going is how it’s used. The easiest way for people to help is to just get the word out. For example, if we post something on Facebook, just give it a quick share. Or give us a call to come speak at a Sunday school class or a local group.”
What type of fundraising does CASA typically do?
“We usually do two big fundraisers per year. That was a little different this past year. We are going to do our Boo Bash event (held in October) again because that always seems popular. We will also be doing a mailer. It’s a postcard with a QR code that will link directly to a donations page.”
Why do you feel CASA is important to the community?
“There are so many answers to that because we are not just changing one life. We are shaping our entire community; I fully believe that. A lot of what we do ends up being preventative. We are trying to make sure these children are growing up successful. Our objective is to ensure these children don’t grow up to repeat the same cycles of abuse. I think it’s helping lower the incarceration rates and homelessness. We are making sure these children are not growing up with mental health or substance abuse issues. In short, we are doing our part to build a better community. I do believe that; I really do.”
For more information about CASA of Robertson County or becoming an advocate, call 615-382-5066 or go to www.casaofrobertsoncounty.com or @CASAofRobertson on Facebook.