Local program needs volunteers to give a voice to foster care children

The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program pairs volunteers with foster children to help break the cycle of child abuse. As the Child Abuse Hotline received over 135,000 calls last year alone, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has declared April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“We can and must do better to ensure that our must vulnerable children are protected and given safe, stable and nurturing environments,” said Ducey.

Twenty new CASAs were sworn in Saturday in Arizona and the program is actively looking for more volunteers.

“It gives children in foster care a chance to have a bright future,” said Laurie Laughlin, the Program Director for CASA of Maricopa County and a former CASA. Laughlin began as a CASA in 1999 and still has lasting relationships with kids she worked with during her time as a volunteer.

“Their case manager could change, their GAL (Guardian ad Litem) could change, their social worker could change, but you’re the only adult that stays with them throughout the whole process,” said Sunny Wilkins, a six-year veteran of the CASA program.

Providing some consistency in their lives, CASAs advocate for these children by spending time with them each month and writing reports that go directly to a judge.

“CASAs are the eyes and the ears of the judge. They don’t have a horse per say in the race,” said Wilkins.

As they have a more objective voice, CASAs can be that neutral third party that will advocate solely for the child and ignore other interests that are sometimes involved in child abuse cases.

“We work tirelessly to help them find that forever safe home that they’re entitled to where they can thrive and break the cycle of abuse,” said Laughlin.

According to CASA of Arizona, only one in ten children in foster care gets paired with a CASA and the number of children in out-of-home care is rising. The need for more CASA volunteers is critical.

“There are so many children that are without a true voice for their own needs and their own circumstance,” said Marilyn Budolfsen, a newly sworn-in CASA.

“It’s a wonderful way to make a difference, to invest in the future, because children are our most important natural resource,” said Laughlin.

If you are interested in becoming a CASA, you can find your local program here..