Ten volunteers were sworn in as Court Appointed Special Advocates in the Jasper County’s CASA chapter on Tuesday where they hope to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of children in foster care throughout the region.
The new group of advocates were sworn in by Jasper County Circuit Court Associate Judge Joe Hensley in the courtroom at the county's Juvenile Center in Joplin.
The local CASA chapter is part of a larger, national organization aimed at providing a voice in court to child victims of abuse and neglect. The Court Appointed Special Advocates meet regularly with children in foster care and advocate for them in court. Volunteers receive a minimum of 30 hours of training with different case scenarios and are appointed by the juvenile court judge.
Advocates investigate, communicate and make fact-based recommendations to the court on behalf of the children in efforts of finding them a permanent home. They may also be one of the only constant, adult role models in a child’s life during their time in foster care.
The Joplin chapter, which was launched in August, has steadily been growing over the past few months. Debi Koelkebeck, executive director of Jasper County CASA, said this will be the second graduating class in the program, and the next training class in June is already booked.
“The (next) class will have 20 advocates, and we’re working on scheduling one right after that, which I’m hoping will be in late summer,” she said. “We’re really ramping up the ability to match a voice of an advocate to an abused and neglected child. We literally just started, and the first class graduated in January.”
Sharon Clark, one of the 10 advocates appointed on Tuesday, said being a CASA volunteer gives her the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the younger generation and let the children know there are people who care about them.
“I read about CASA in the Globe and knew I wanted to help," she said. "My dad always said to leave the world a better place. I think it's a neat thing, and I hope every county in the United States does this program."
Koelkebeck said there’s a large need for an organization such as this one in Jasper County and that the response from the community has been phenomenal. She said about 400 children in foster care just in Jasper County are in need of CASA volunteers.
“The co-founder and I knew how much this was needed, but the way the community has responded has been fantastic,” she said. “I have youth ministers, retired postmasters, school principals, and they all have experience with children in some way. Some of them have seen the trauma these kids have gone through, so they know what it takes to help them.”