There is a popular poem by Forest Witcraft that reads, "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove ... but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) of Franklin County is looking for just that kind of person -- actually, about 40 of them.
"Advocates are the heart of the CASA program," said Mariah Hayes, executive director of Franklin County CASA. "Each year children are abused and neglected by those who should protect them, their parents and/or guardians."
Hayes said those children are often removed from their homes, schools, friends and family.
"They are scared," she said, "not knowing who to trust."
This is where the CASA advocate steps up.
"The advocate will be appointed to a child or siblings who have been deemed abused and neglected by Franklin County Abuse and Neglect Court," said Hayes. The advocate's job is to get to know the child and build a rapport, become familiar wit the facts surrounding the case, facilitate the needs and services for the child's best interest, ensure their placement is safe, and report to the court.
Put simply, the advocate becomes the child's voice and friend while he or she deals with the trauma.
Hayes said that the need for advocates in Franklin County is great.
"In 2017, CASA of Franklin County advocated for 89 abused and neglected children with 32 advocates," she said. However, there are currently 40 more children who need a CASA advocate, and unfortunately this number is expected to increase.
Advocates spend an average of about 10 hours a month.
To qualify, you must be 21 years old, pass background checks, successfully complete 30 hours of pre-service training and be accepted into the program. The training takes about 30 hours and encompasses family dynamics, the CASA role, and court and case studies.
The next training begins Feb. 1.
For more information, go to casafranklincounty.org, call 618-438-0608, or visit CASA in person at 903 W. Washington St. in Benton.