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From left: Julie Good, Laura Farmer and Rebecca Weber
McKenzie Robinson | SBJ
From left: Julie Good, Laura Farmer and Rebecca Weber

2021 Economic Impact Awards 30-74 Years in Business Honoree: Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri

Giving Voice

Posted online

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri has enjoyed many successes since Laura Farmer came aboard in 2017 as executive director.

The nonprofit agency that provides volunteers to serve as the voices and advocates for children in foster care was in trouble when Farmer accepted the challenge.

The organization that began in 1989 with a donation from Junior League of Springfield had endured a number of leadership changes and by 2017 saw more volunteers leaving than joining.

Farmer has since transformed the organization, introducing new financial strategies and growing the volunteer base to 244, up 184% from 86 active when she joined.

The local CASA also has gone from swearing in 27 new volunteers a year to 89 in 2020.

But Farmer says the most important statistic is the one that involves the children its volunteers advocate for. In the past three years, she and her team have increased the number of children served by 118% and, in 2018, became the first CASA program in the state to expand to a second court jurisdiction. CASA SWMO now serves both Greene and Christian counties.

“Children who are in foster care are there because they have been abused or neglected. It is our organization’s vision to serve every child in the foster care system, and we need to continue our growth pattern to meet this goal,” Farmer says.

Farmer says one of the biggest game-changers for the organization was participating in The Great Game of Business open-book management.

“We have transparency throughout the organization – we’re all on the same page. There’s a need in our community, and the only way we’re going to begin meeting that need is working together,” Farmer says.

She says launching that financial strategy in 2019 ushered in the best years in the organization’s history. It enabled the team to grow programs and revenues at the same rate. Since 2017, CASA has recorded a 97% increase in revenue.

But, Farmer says, the pace needs to continue to climb in order to meet the rising demand for services.

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced Farmer and her team to create new ways for volunteers to safely remain engaged in their kids’ lives, it also created greater demand for advocates.

“2020 was the most challenging year of my professional life,” Farmer says. “The unintended consequence of a shutdown order is that children may be left at home alone with unsafe caregivers, or they may be left at home alone with no access to food or water. Because of these things, child abuse and neglect has spiked in our community. We are now seeing the highest rates of children entering foster care than in all my 16 years in this field.”

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