Why Not Volunteer to Help Kids?
Sadly, some children suffer in situations of abuse or neglect. The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services investigates all such reports and, if verified, brings these cases before the Youth Court judge. That is when CASA of Harrison County steps in.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers are assigned by the Youth Court judge to serve as advocates for the child. Part of the national CASA organization, the local branch has helped over 2,000 children in Harrison and Stone Counties.
“Volunteer advocates and staff will be assigned to a child in foster care or at risk of being removed from their home,” explained Tiffany Dillard, CASA’s Executive Director. “Once assigned, the volunteer advocates for that child until they are returned to their home, adopted or placed with another caretaker. This can take up to two years or more, and throughout the time, even if the foster homes and the MDCPS [MS Dept. of Child Protective Services] agents change, the CASA volunteer remains the same, providing the child with a beacon of consistency.”
Based on CASA’s national model, advocacy only ends when the case is closed and the child is finally in a safe, permanent home. The primary goal is reunification with parents. If this isn’t possible, the next step is to find a relative who can care for the child permanently. Only failing those two options does adoption become the final solution.
CASA has a staff of six to recruit volunteers. All prospective volunteers must go through intensive screening. Once accepted, there’s 34 hours of training before they qualify as a sworn-in CASA advocate.
“At this time,” Dillard explained, “CASA is in dire need of volunteer advocates. We have 32 children in need of advocates that are waiting for someone to help change their story of abuse and trauma to one of hope and healing.”
A nonprofit private organization, CASA has relied on funding from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). These funds come from restitution paid by those convicted of crimes, such as DUI convictions. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, these prosecutions have been reduced, resulting in CASA’s funds being drastically cut this year.
Those wishing to volunteer or donate may call (228)865-7078, visit the website Casaharrisoncounty.org, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Helping abused children and their families is a community effort,” Dillard stressed.
She mentioned several local charities that aid CASA. The Junior Auxiliary of Gulfport helps find resources for foster children when a need is identified. Elijah’s Closet states its mission is to assist families with children in — or at risk of going into — foster care. Clothing and furniture from this charity have been invaluable in assisting CASA’s needs. Even the Girl Scouts contribute.
“We refer to ourselves as the pathway to hope,” Dillard said.
Philip L. Levin, MD is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.