Volunteer advocates needed to speak for Northwest Georgia children in court
As the number of children in foster care increases, a North Georgia judge says there are not enough people stepping up to be a voice for them in court.
Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, work on a volunteer basis. That means they interview parents and speak to heartbroken, neglected children all without any compensation.
Annice Goodwin was hired to get the Court Appointed Special Advocates program running again in the Lookout Mountain Judicial District.
Her volunteers visit foster homes and prepare a report for the judge over the case.
"They advocate for that child, not for anybody else, but just what's in the best interest of that child," Goodwin said.
Stephanie Wharton completed the 30 hours of training and 10 hours of court observation required to become a CASA.
It's a huge responsibility to take on free of charge, but she says it really couldn't serve its purpose any other way.
"Knowing that really my obligation is a report to the judge, I don't work for any attorney or for DFCS, my job is to let the judge know what I found out," Wharton said.
Goodwin went from three volunteers to 20 in the last year and a half. But as more children pour into state care, she and the district judges say there's still a huge need.
"Their goal is that everyone that comes through DFCS and is in foster care has a CASA," Goodwin said. "That's a lot of kids, and that's a lot of CASAs."
Goodwin says it would take doubling the number of CASAs she has now to get there, and the need is specifically high in Catoosa and Walker counties.
Wharton is still working on two difficult cases she's had for nearly 13 months, but another where a boy was reunited with his father serves as a reminder that sometimes the process works out right.
"For the judge to say 'I'm just so proud of you both,' was just really really wonderful to get to observe and see and get to be a small part of," Wharton said.