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Opinion: CASA campaign tackles growing foster care needs

Truth Be Told

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In Greene and Christian counties, there are roughly 1,000 kids in foster care, and by 2030, it’s the goal of a local nonprofit to ensure they all have an adult advocate.

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri announced a $2.7 million capital campaign on March 30 to expand its services and staff with a new headquarters and kids’ clubhouse.

The mission of CASA is straightforward: train volunteers to serve as trusted advocates for children in foster care. Its research shows this mission significantly improves outcomes for these kids, including fewer changes in placement, a decreased likelihood of reentering the system, access to more services and better academic performance. Like other nonprofits that serve kids, CASA touts the message that just one positive adult can make an immeasurable impact on a child’s life.

The nonprofit has been serving the community for more than three decades, but its growth in the past five years is worth commending. In 2017, CASA had 86 active volunteers. Today, that number is over 300, and those volunteers serve more than 400 children. 

After a news conference announcing the campaign, CASA Executive Director Laura Farmer shared with me she’d been working on these expansion plans for a couple years. When Council of Churches announced its own capital campaign last October, and with plans to move to new offices, Farmer says she knew that space would be ideal for CASA. Moving to the two buildings at Glenstone Avenue and Chestnut Expressway from 1,500 square feet of office space at the National Avenue Office Park means more employees, to 20 from its current 12, Farmer says.

The highlight of the capital campaign project, however, is the kids’ clubhouse next to the new HQ.

The space will house a children’s play corner, media room, sensory room and private family rooms. Kids in foster care often have court-approved visits with parents or guardians or their siblings. When kids have been removed from their homes due to safety issues, CASA trains its volunteers that reunification is the judge’s goal when possible. These visits with family while a child is in foster care are critical to that, and a dedicated space to allow for these visits is an incredible opportunity.

I volunteered with CASA previously, and finding appropriate spaces for visits between parents or siblings could be challenging. Imagine being a kid in foster care and seeing your parent for the first time since you were separated. That could bring a range of emotions, and those private family rooms at the clubhouse will be ideal. Imagine being a kid separated from your brother or sister and getting the chance to spend time together after days or weeks being apart. Farmer says these spaces will allow kids to be kids without the restrictions you might get when meeting up at a restaurant or a library.

The headquarters and clubhouse themselves will also be meaningful symbols for kids in foster care, Farmer notes. She says these kids may not know the community cares about them or even know that they exist. The buildings are a tangible and permanent reminder that these kids are seen. And while the kids won’t know the names behind the gifts that made it possible, the community sure does, and that further elevates CASA’s mission. Nonprofit officials say major donations came from Dan and Kim Piddington, the Risdal Family Foundation, the Sunderland Foundation, members of the O’Reilly family and the Hulston Family Foundation.

Farmer ended the news conference with commenting on how these buildings will impact thousands of kids’ lives in the years to come. Under her leadership, and by this community’s support, I believe that goal of serving all kids in foster care by the start of the next decade is possible. Now, it’s up to more of us to step up and join the cause. Changing a child’s story starts with an adult they can trust. Is that you?

Springfield Business Journal Executive Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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