Is Foster Care or CASA Volunteering Right for Your Family?
Childhood should be a time of nurturing and love, when the youngster grows with confidence and trust in a safe and familiar environment. Sadly, circumstances can thwart these goals, such as when the child’s parents are not available due to legal or health reasons. Sometimes, a financial disaster can leave needy children homeless and forsaken. These children need someone with a loving heart to provide a home, to provide a temporary safe and loving place as foster parents, or to stand up for them as a CASA legal advocate.
According to the Mississippi Department ofHuman Services, for the fiscal year 2014 there were 8,756 documented children who were victims of abuse or neglect, representing one of every thousand Mississippi children. 3,700 of these children were placed into the foster care system in Mississippi, with 148 of these children waiting for adoptive families.
Not anyone can be a foster parent. Every state has specific requirements, designed to ensure the foster parents have the ability to provide the needed space and are financially secure. There are no minimum income requirements to become foster parents, nor is there a requirement to own a large home. To make room, foster children can share a bedroom with another child. In Mississippi, the requirements are listed in the box accompanying this article.
Besides foster parents, many children in the foster care system will have an adult advocate assigned by the court, called a “Court Appointed Special Advocate,” or CASA for short.
“When kids are in the system, they often find themselves being shifted through several different foster homes,” said Frances Allsup, executive director for Jackson County CASA. “We have kids who have been in as many as 11 foster homes and (have worked with) 35 social workers.”
“The only thing constant is the CASA volunteer assigned to that child,” Allsup said. “As long as the child is in the court system, the same volunteer will follow that child.”
Training to be a CASA volunteer takes 10 hours, and the assignment can take up a lot of nights and weekends.
“Post Katrina there’s been an incredible number of needy foster children on the coast,” explained Cynthia Chauvin, executive director of Hancock County’s CASA.
“(It’s) so many that we don’t have enough coastal homes to place our children, and thus (have) a large need to recruit foster parents and CASA volunteers.”
“Volunteering is the heartbeat of CASA,” Chauvin said. “Just after the hurricane, Child Protective Services (CPS) didn’t have enough bodies to do the certifications, so a lot of people who had reached out to be foster parents couldn’t be certified.”
“Now CPS has more dedicated staff and we would love to have people reach out again,” Chauvin said.
Foster care in south Mississippi provides the loving touch that can save a life. For those who have the parental instinct, becoming a foster parent can save the life of a child and bring great love into your home. For CASA volunteers, being a legal advocate for the child offers the reward of knowing you have made a real difference.
As Frederick Douglas said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
By Philip L. Levin, MD
Foster and adoption licensing requirements in Mississippi:
- Completion of required agency forms.
- Medical information completed by a physician.
- You can be single or married.
- Verification of marriages and divorces, if applicable.
- Currently reside in the state of Mississippi.
- Applicants must be at least 21 years of age.
- Child Abuse Registry checks for all adults in the home.
- Police record clearance for all adults in the home.
- References for employment and character.
- Sanitation and water inspection, if not on approved system.
- Home visits and interviews with all household members.
- Active telephone service in the home.
- Smoke alarm and no less than a four-pound ABC-type fire extinguisher.
- Minimum income that proves applicant is self-supporting and could financially meet the needs of an additional family member.
- Transportation available at all times.
- Participate in at least 15 hours of pre-service training.
- Child must have his or her own bed, and no adult or child of the opposite sex may sleep in the same room with him or her.
- Life insurance coverage for family, child and a plan for the child in the event of disability or death of parent.