Johnson Countians urged to help fill shortage of volunteers advocating for abused, neglected children

CASA volunteer speaks with young child

CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties is looking for volunteers for more than 120 children going through the child welfare and court systems. Above, a volunteer speaks with a young child. Photo courtesy of CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties.

Kim Robertson, a retired teacher, has been volunteering with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties since October 2015.

She knew she wanted to stay involved in the lives of children during retirement, and remembered students she had taught who had been foster children, she said. There was a lot of movement in her foster students’ lives between changing social workers, schools and foster families.

Kim Robertson, a retired teacher, volunteers with CASA and works mostly with newborns who have medical issues. She said her intent is to be a constant in these children’s lives, especially amid a slew of changes as foster children. Photo courtesy of Kim Robertson.

The intent behind becoming a CASA volunteer was to be a constant in children’s lives, Robertson said.

Although the emotional labor can be challenging — especially for Robertson, who works mostly with newborns whose cases last until they’re about two or three — she said being a person the kids can rely on keeps her going.

“When I come into children’s houses and they recognize me and they run to me and they smile, I know I’m making a difference,” Robertson said.

More volunteers needed

CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties will serve about 500 kids in 2021, which is about one-third of all the children under court protection in the two counties.

Volunteers like Robertson act as advocates for the children as they go through the child welfare program and court systems.

Natalie Julien CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties presdient and CEO
Natalie Julien, CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties president and chief executive officer, said there’s a concern children who don’t receive a volunteer will not make the same positive outcomes as children who do. Photo courtesy of CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties.

Currently, the organization says it is looking for volunteers to pair up with the more than 120 children on its waiting list.

Natalie Julien, CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties president and chief executive officer, said a child who is assigned a volunteer is less likely to be re-abused and is far more likely to find a safe, permanent home.

“The concern is that any child who does not have that opportunity won’t be able to show the same positive outcomes,” Julien said. “Our team works to identify CASA volunteers that can match with each of these children, but we definitely need more volunteers to help work through that waiting list.”

Additionally, 95% of the children who have worked with CASA volunteers in the last eight years have not been re-abused or re-entered the court systems.

What volunteers do

CASA volunteers dedicate about 10-12 hours a month, Robertson said, to provide judges with critical information to help them decide where a child should live, along with what medical, therapeutic or educational services the child needs.

With four children and a grandchild at home, Robertson said her daily life is busy — but she is able to fit her CASA responsibilities in each week. The pandemic has brought on some difficulties as Robertson said she likes to visit with her children weekly, though Zoom calls and park visits have taken the place of that.

Each volunteer is assigned a supervisor, who help guide volunteers through children’s cases and help them with some responsibilities like making reports to the court.

“The part about it being overwhelming, there’s support,” Robertson said. “You can actually use the support, they don’t just say it’s there, it is actually there. [If I had known that] at the beginning, I would have become a volunteer sooner.”

How to become a volunteer

Although COVID-19 has slightly changed the process, it’s still possible for people to become a CASA volunteer.

There is 30 hours of required training, currently all being done either through Zoom meetings or online.

Anyone able to take the time can become a volunteer, Julien said, and there are no special skills or education requirements.

Julien said CASA is looking for people like Robertson, who will put children’s needs first.

“What we’re looking for are individuals who have a heart for helping kids, just like Kim,” Julien said. “She truly does have that mindset of putting the kids first and just showing them support and kindness throughout the process, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

CASA also conducts background checks on prospective volunteers, Julien said. Those who are interested in becoming a volunteer can learn more online here, or can call (913) 715-4040.