BOSTON (WWLP) – More than 8,000 abused and neglected children are in foster care in Massachusetts, but fewer than 1,000 of them have an advocate representing their “best interests” in the court system. The Court Appointed Special Advocates program, or C.A.S.A., matches trained-volunteers with children under the care of the state Department of Children and Families.
“We have young volunteers; we have retired volunteers, every walk of life. Just ordinary people who want to help kids,” said C.A.S.A. Program Director Randee Laikind.
Volunteers work alongside social workers to give foster children a voice in the court room and push to make sure all needs are met. As the Department of Children and Families works through the issue of large caseloads, the C.A.S.A. program strives to better protect children under state care. By using volunteers, it is also cost-effective.
“We’re spending a relatively small amount of money; it’s well under a million dollars to have several programs across the Commonwealth that really have an impact in terms of hundreds of lives,” said State Representative John Scibak (D-South Hadley).
The impact is felt by more than just the children, but the volunteers as well.
“You do create a relationship and it’s a very nice relationship most of the time. It’s so rewarding being a C.A.S.A. It really is,” said volunteer Peggy O’Brien.
C.A.S.A. volunteers undergo intensive and specialized training. There are twenty-five C.A.S.A. volunteers currently working in Franklin and Hampshire Counties.