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Advocates needed for area children

CASA seeks volunteers for kids in child welfare system

When an Iowa child is placed in the foster care system due to neglect or abuse, they are paired with a court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer who walks through the process with the child, advocating for their best interests and ensuring that the child in crisis is safe and has an opportunity to thrive. However, as more children are entering the Iowa child welfare system, additional volunteers are needed to serve as child advocates, especially in Webster, Hamilton, and Calhoun counties.

“The primary responsibilities of a CASA volunteer are to gather information, review documents and records, interview the children, family members and professionals in their lives to help make sure that children who have experienced abuse or neglect aren’t negatively affected by the system,” said CASA Program Coordinator Crystal Engstrom.

Engstrom, who has served in her role with CASA for 12 years, currently has only five volunteers serving children in Webster, Hamilton, and Calhoun counties.

“CASA volunteers are ordinary people who are committed to doing what is best for a child,” said Engstrom. “All of our volunteers are trained in courtroom procedure, social services, the juvenile justice system, and the special needs of children who have experienced abuse.”

Engstrom said that CASA volunteers typically carry one case at a time, though some cases can last anywhere from 12-24 months.

According to Engstrom, time spent as a CASA can be rewarding for both the child and the volunteer.

“There are so many examples,” said Engstrom. “One CASA advocated for a child for two years. He was three when she met him. During this time, many people came and went. He had three different DHS workers, two foster parents, two attorneys, five family service workers, two daycares, and two preschools. She was the only consistent presence for him throughout these years. At every meeting, he ran to meet her with a big hug. He found permanency with his last foster parents. Consistency is a great gift to these children.”

In 2021, CASA and the Iowa Foster Care Review Board served 3,195 abused or neglected Iowa children. While volunteers are needed locally, they are also needed statewide.

To learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer, contact Engstrom at crystal.engstrom@dia.iowa.gov or online at childadvocacy.iowa.gov.

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