Advocating for the abused

When the state removes a neglected or abused child from a dangerous home situation, it's for his or her protection. But the child understandably feels afraid and alone.

"Everything changes for that child," said Jennifer Mylenek, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jackson County. "Their schools. Their friends. Everything they taste, feel and see changes. And they're just children."

A CASA often is the child's only constant. The volunteer acts in the child's best interest as his case slowly winds through the court system.

Founded in 1976 in Seattle, CASA programs now serve more than 250,000 children, from newborns up to age 18, in 49 states. The Jackson County program served about 475 children last year.

CASA volunteers undergo 40 hours of training. They must be willing to give about 10 hours per month to help abused and neglected children find a safe, loving, nurturing and permanent home.

CASA volunteers contact the Department of Human Services Child Welfare caseworker, foster parent, child's attorney and CASA program at least once a month and submit a monthly progress report.

A CASA becomes knowledgeable about the people and facts involved in a case and helps the court determine the best plan for the child's future.

There are currently only enough CASAs to cover fewer than half of the cases pending in Jackson County, said Mylenek.

"It is vital we get more volunteers so we can get more CASAs in the field," said Mylenek.

CASAs help children move through the judicial system more rapidly. A child with a CASA spends an average of 10 fewer months in court-ordered foster care. If parental rights are ultimately severed, adoption can take two years — assuming there is a family waiting to adopt. Some children, like Katie Davis, will remain in foster care until they age out of the system, said Mylenek.

"And through it all, there is no sense of permanency for the child," she said.

Except for the CASA.

Those interested in volunteering as a CASA may contact Emily Canete at 734-2272, ext. 307. Or visit

— Sanne Specht

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