Northwest Arkansas is a land of plenty. There are lots of jobs, rising incomes, growing population and an expanding list of amenities from trails to museums to enhance lives. But those positive realities do not mask the needs of roughly 1,000 kids living in foster care in Benton and Washington counties.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Northwest Arkansas held its annual Light of Hope fundraising luncheon in Springdale on Thursday (Nov. 8), calling attention to 104 children in the area on a wait list for an advocate to help them navigate the journey from family to courts to foster care and sometimes back to their family.
“We are committed to finding these 104 local children an advocate by 2020 so they are not left behind with little hope to cling to,” said Cyndi Dye, a board member for CASA of NWA. “It’s an overwhelming need that we can’t meet alone.”
Photos of children not yet paired with an advocate lined the wall of the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center in Springdale as Dye asked the large crowd of supporters to work together to meet the need. Dye said there are 847 kids in the region who have been placed with a CASA advocate. She said the demand for advocates has risen 14% year-over-year. The goal of CASA is to work as an intermediary and advocate for the children – birth to age 21 – as they journey from foster care through the courts and custody issues and either reunification with birth family or adoption.
Last year the local organization saw 138 children reunified with their families and 81 children adopted. The local organization has 330 volunteer advocates who submitted 703 reports to courts on behalf of the children they were serving.
Tyson Foods executive Doug Ramsey spoke at the event and said he was humbled that he personally knew so little about the work CASA of Northwest Arkansas does on behalf of kids placed in foster care.
“I was raised by a single mother as one of four kids and I don’t know my dad,” Ramsey said. “I was fortunate to have a mom who gave to kids all she had in love and care. When I reached out to speak to some of the advocates in this area working on behalf of kids it brought me to my knees. There are nearly 1,000 local kids in tremendous need. CASA provides stability to these kids and the advocates do it voluntarily, seeking nothing in return.”
Ramsey admitted this had been a teachable moment for him to see this need, adding it’s easy to get caught up in one’s own world when running a large business operation. Ramsey is group president for Tyson’s chicken business and is responsible for about one-third of Tyson Foods’ $40 billion of annual revenue. He oversees 47 of Tyson’s poultry facilities and more than 46,000 employees.
“I am proud of the people making this effort. Every child deserves the opportunities and blessings we all enjoy. My experiences and challenges are nothing compared to the hardships these kids face every day,” Ramsey concluded.
Foster parents Missy and Ryan Worley spoke about the role of the advocates with which they have worked. Ryan said foster parents are busy people often raising their own biological children when they get a call of a new placement. He said when the child or children come into the foster home emotions are sometimes raw and it can be good and also sorrowful at the same time.
He said the last thing they wanted was to get a call from another interested party after they took over care of a two-year girl removed from her mother’s custody for drug addiction.
“This advocate works on behalf of the child and focuses only on the best interest for the child. They also work with birth parents, courts and foster families to bridge communication between these parties. Advocates work to try and reunite families when they can do so, but they always have the kid’s best interest at heart,” Missy Worley said.
She said the CASA advocate is the glue that holds the fragile pieces together at times and more advocates are needed.
This year the non-profit has an annual budget of $1.144 million and 80% of the organization’s expenses were program centered. The organization has said there are multiple ways consumers can help from financial gifts to stock awards, selecting CASA of Northwest Arkansas on the AmazonSmile program, in-kind gift of new or used items which can be given to foster children in need and sponsoring a foster child at Christmas time.
Link here for more information on ways to support CASA.