Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Northwest Arkansas served 954 children in the region last year, but 79 children were left with no CASA advocate to help walk them through the difficult journey of foster care.
At the organization’s annual fundraising luncheon in Springdale on Thursday (Nov. 21), CASA said there was a 13% increase last year in the number of children needing advocates.
While the organization achieved a zero waitlist in June, board director Chris Mitchell pointed to 79 pairs of shoes mounted at the front of the convention center symbolizing children who were turned away last year because of a lack of resources.
Roughy 600 people attended the awareness luncheon held at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center in Springdale. Tyson Foods CEO Noel White was the featured keynote speaker. White said he grew up in middle America outside of Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1960s and 1970s with a loving family that afforded him opportunities to succeed.
“So many children are not that fortunate,” White said.
White singled out two Tyson Foods employees involved as CASA advocates working with infants and teenagers in foster care and dreaming of being adopted. He said Tyson Foods is proud to support the selfless acts of CASA through funding and volunteers.
CASA said 400 more volunteers are needed to serve an estimated 1,100 children in foster care this time next year. Christian Hernandez, a 20-year-old from Springdale, said he bounced around the foster care system for 15 years, entering the system at age 5. He said over the next 10 years he would spend time in more than 25 foster homes.
“It’s hard to be ripped away from your family, it’s scary and very lonely. But when I was 9 years old I met Tom, my CASA advocate and he became a constant in my life. Every foster kid’s dream is to be adopted and for me, my chance fell through when I was about 14. I ended up living in a halfway house in Springdale until I was 16. During all that time Tom visited me and helped work through my anger and rebelliousness,” he said.
“Tom quit his job as a CASA advocate and brought me into his home and has since been a solid father-figure for me. I have a job at Olive Garden and a girlfriend and my future is bright, because of his intervention,” Hernandez said.
CASA’s first allegiance is to try and reunite children with their families when that is possible. Last year the local organization had 174 reunifications and 113 adoptions. There are 373 CASA volunteers at work in the region who submitted 814 court reports.
The annual luncheon was also a fundraiser to raise the money to provide 30 new CASA advocates for this year. The cost for CASA of NWA to serve one child for one year is $1,216. The local chapter serves children from birth to age 21 in Benton, Carroll, Madison, and Washington counties.
The organization said 80% of children had two or fewer foster home placements after they were assigned a CASA advocate. Even for children who languish in foster care, the educational outcomes are better for those with a CASA advocate. The organization said 15 foster teens graduated high school or earned a GED this past year.