WAUWATOSA, Wis. - Across the nation and here at home, thousands of people are appointed by the courts to independently investigate and advocate for children in abusive situations.
It is the goal of those volunteers to ensure children are placed in a loving and permanent home.
"I would like to encourage folks never to underestimate the role of community," said Lance Jones, Kids Matter Inc. program manager.
Every day, strangers play a special role in protecting Milwaukee County's most vulnerable children. Many of them have full-time jobs and clock out after their shift – just to 'clock in' for another one.
"These are community volunteers who want to advocate for children who have been abused or neglected and currently have a case pending in Milwaukee County Children’s Court," said Jones.
Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA volunteers, for short, must finish more than 30 hours of training and a courtroom observation before they are sworn in by a Children’s Court judge – then matched with a child or group of siblings.
"We always want to match the best volunteer for that particular child," said Jones.
Jones spends his days training and supporting CASA volunteers at Kids Matter Inc.
"Little children, especially, they cannot speak up for themselves," said Jones.
Kids Matter Inc. is a Milwaukee organization that supports relatives and foster parents who have taken abused or neglected children under their wings.
"Absolutely, the first goal of the system is to keep kids safe at home, if they can be," said Susan Conwell, Kids Matter Inc. executive director. "The other side is if they can’t be… there are many kids who, the Child Protection System saved their lives."
Once a match is made, each CASA volunteer is responsible for seeing the child once every seven to 10 days; it is their job to speak for the child when they can't speak for themselves, and show up when it counts the most.
"They’re not paid to be there," said Jones. "They have complete freedom to speak truth to power. They don't have to protect a job, an internship. They are completely free to say, ‘This is what I think is in the child’s best interest based on my fact-based investigation.'"
Through its CASA program, Kids Matter Inc. works with upwards of 160 children in the course of a year. Some of those are individual children; others are sibling groups.
There are more than 900 CASA programs and 70,000 volunteers across the nation.
Learn more about the National CASA Association by clicking HERE.
To learn how to become a CASA volunteer with Kids Matter Inc., or to start the process, click HERE.