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April 30, 2013 • Page 12 Southeast CASA Program I’m going to let you in on a little secret: In the past twelve months there have been twenty-three children from Yankton County who were placed in foster care due to the abuse or neglect they experienced at home. Yes, twentythree precious children came into the Child Protection system through no fault of their own. It is shocking to think that this many children from Yankton County were being maltreated to the point that authorities had to step in in order to keep them safe. Most of these twenty-three children are under the age of five. Very young children are the most vulnerable group to be abused or neglected because they are home more than older children are, they are often unable to verbalize what is happening to them, and they don’t yet realize that what they are experiencing is not normal behavior in other families. Why haven’t you heard about these children before? There are two reasons. First of all, there is a great deal of confidentiality surrounding the details of these cases. The Social Services workers, the attorneys, and the foster parents must maintain confidentiality about the families they work with. This is a good thing. The second reason you haven’t heard about the number of abused or neglected children placed in foster care is that the Southeast CASA Program is relatively new in Yankton County. We opened our office in October 2011, and we have been assigning CASA cases for one year. Now that CASA is providing advocacy services for abused and neglected children who are in foster care, we will be sharing information with you on a regular basis about the need for child advocacy shop online at www.missourivalleyshopper.com services and the benefits of CASA. Haven’t heard about CASA before? CASA programs are non-profit organizations that recruit and train volunteers to be child advocates. CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates. A CASA volunteer works with the Court as a special liaison to advocate for a very special group: the children who have been abused or neglected and placed in foster care. The judge signs a Court Order appointing a CASA volunteer to a particular case involving an abused or neglected child. The CASA volunteer advocates for the child’s best interests while he or she is in foster care. At the end of a case, the CASA volunteer presents the Court with a full, factual report about the child and the child’s parents during the time they are involved in family court. This advocacy work will help the Court to determine a safe, permanent placement for the child. Children don’t come into foster care because of happy circumstances. They are survivors of abuse or neglect, of tragic situations far beyond their control. Children who experience stress in their youth live with the echoes of that stress for their entire lives. Being in the foster care system can be scary and stressful for a child. “Why am I living with strangers? What is happening to my mommy and daddy? How long will I have to be here? Will things be better when I go home? Will I go home?” Moving from home to home, never knowing how long he’ll stay or how he’ll fit in, having his future governed by judges and social workers instead of parents – these are Sherri Rodgers-Conti Program Director difficult and trying experiences for a child. CASA volunteers do not make the stress instantly disappear. Their role, instead, is to speak for these youth during their time in the foster care system, giving them a voice in the decisions about their future. The CASA volunteer can request needed services for the child, such as counseling or healthcare. The CASA volunteer stays with a case until the Court determines a safe, permanent placement for the child. CASA volunteers, by fighting relentlessly and selflessly for the youth they represent, are providing an essential service that no one else can provide. Social workers and attorneys have many cases at any one time. At CASA, each CASA volunteer can focus on one case at a time. We know CASA advocacy makes a difference: abused or neglected children who have a CASA volunteer spend less time in foster care, are less likely to re-enter foster care, and get more help while they are in the system. With a CASA volunteer as their advocate, they have better school attendance, are more likely to graduate high school, and have the best chance to develop the interpersonal skills necessary for success in life. These are outcomes that certainly benefit the child, but they also benefit the entire community. Not only are tax dollars saved, the children who have had a CASA volunteer will have the best chance to grow up to be productive citizens and loving parents, breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect. The CASA concept began 35 years ago, and the National CASA Association has grown to over 1,000 local CASA programs. There are six CASA programs in South Dakota, with Southeast CASA in Yankton being the most recent addition to the ranks. April is a special month for CASA programs. We celebrate our volunteers during National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and we do special activities to commemorate National Child Abuse Prevention Month. CASA programs depend upon the great work of their CASA volunteers to help the abused and neglected children in our area, and we want to take time to emphasize those things with the public. The Southeast CASA Program’s goal for the future is simple: To be sure that the Court has all the information needed to determine where there will be a safe and nurturing home for every single abused or neglected child who has been placed in foster care. Every child in foster care deserves to have a CASA volunteer. So, how can YOU help abused and neglected children? By becoming involved with Southeast CASA in a variety of ways. Perhaps you are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer. If so, contact the Southeast CASA office. Maybe your skills would be best used as a member of our Board of Directors. You can also help by spreading the word that a CASA program is serving children in Yankton County. Our most urgent need is for funding to sustain the program. Southeast CASA depends upon grants and donations to fund our services for these at-risk children. Although we are very frugal, it does cost an average of $1000 per child to provide them with a CASA volunteer throughout their case. The need for CASA is great, and we must have the support of the public to meet that need. If you would like to make a contribution to the Southeast CASA Program, you will be glad to know that 100% of your donation stays in Yankton County to help the kids who need a CASA volunteer’s advocacy. Thank you for your interest in helping our most vulnerable children. Sherri Rodgers-Conti, Program Director Southeast CASA Program P.O. Box 7017 Yankton, SD 57078 (605) 760-4825 www.southeastcasa.org contactus@southeastcasa.org official CASA logos below: Sherri Rodgers-Conti, Program Director Southeast CASA’s entry in the 2012 Riverboat Days Parade. certified public accountants DAKOTA ARCHERY & OUTDOOR SPORTS For Flooring with a Professional Touch Harry Lane, Electrical Contractor • Commercial • Residential • Farm Wiring • Prompt Service • Quality Work • Competitive Prices New Construction or Remodeling • Home 665-6612 Yankton Office 207 Douglas Avenue • PO Box 1018 Yankton, SD 57078 605-665-4401 • Fax: 605-665-0592 212 Walnut Street, Historic Downtown Yankton 605-665-2067 605-665-8340 2305 E. 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