Editor’s note: Story and photos by Nancy Peevy, a freelance contributor to Talk Business & Politics
Business and community leaders can donate time and money to provide a voice for over 900 children in foster care, Charles Redfield executive vice president of U.S. food at Walmart told attendees at the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Light of Hope breakfast on Tuesday (Nov. 17) in Rogers.
Redfield told the audience of more than 700 at the eighth annual breakfast, that CASA is an organization that gives children a voice in the court system by providing quality volunteer representation (advocates) for abused and neglected children in the court system. Colleen Smith, CASA director of development, said the role of a volunteer advocate is to step into the situation and work for the child to make sure the case plan that has been assigned by the judge and by the Department of Human Services (DHS) is being followed. The advocate also makes sure that the child gets any needed educational services and medical care.
“It’s so easy for a child to not get new glasses while they are in foster care or not see a dentist for 18 months,” Smith said. “These are kids who traditionally are neglected at home and so you can imagine you have kids coming into foster care with their teeth rotting out.”
Advocates are assigned to a child from the time their case is assigned, until it closes. Smith said on average, the commitment is about 15 to 18 months. However, if the child is a teenager, who is less likely to be adopted, the volunteer may advocate for the child until they sign themselves out of care, or age out of the system.
“Every child that has an advocate has a level of success because they have a voice in court and there’s a better chance that they’re not going to be forgotten,” Smith said. “We consider it a real success when they go to a safe and loving home.”
In some cases that does mean going back to their parents, she said.
Redfield said because of limited finances and lack of volunteers, only two-thirds of children in foster care receive an advocate. Last year CASA was able to provide a volunteer advocate for 580 children in NWA, but that left 150 who did not have an advocate, Smith said.
CASA is closing the gap on having an advocate for each foster child in the system, Redfield said. In 2005,100 CASA volunteers and three advocate supervisors served 324 children. Today the program has grown to 200 volunteers, and seven supervisors, serving 580 children. The organization is on a mission to serve every child in care by the year 2020, Smith said. The vision for 2020 is to have 300 volunteers and 11 supervisors who serve over 950 children.
In a call for donations at the end of the breakfast, Ryan Blue, CASA board member, told the crowd that because of the broken world, there were 6,000 reported cases of child abuse in our community. He challenged attendees to work together to create a community that is safe and healthy for all children.
“We do not live in a perfect world and that is why we have CASA,” Blue said. “Our goal is to raise enough funds to serve 188 new children this year.”
Organizers hoped to raise more than $200,000 in the form of attendees’ donations given at the breakfast.
During the event, Kim Lane, mediator for juvenile, domestic and probate cases and past board member, received the Mike and Susan Duke Outstanding Service Award at the event for her work with children and the CASA organization.
A Light of Hope luncheon was held in Springdale with Sara Lilygren, executive vice present of corporate affairs for Tyson Foods, as the keynote speaker. Organizers expected 300 people at that event.
The presenting sponsor for the breakfast and lunch was General Mills. Paramount was the premier sponsor, with Tyson, Kimberly-Clark, US Nutrition and Fosters Pint & Plate as benefactor sponsors.