Jackson County CASA makes kids’ voices heard

We’d like to call attention to a dedicated group of volunteers making a big difference in the lives of children in foster care in our community: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). Since 1983, Jackson County CASA has been recruiting, training and supporting volunteers. What do CASAs do? They get to know a child in foster care, learn about their case, and work with the organization to develop the best course of action for the child. Currently, Jackson County CASA has a roster of 350 advocates, but they are planning to add 200 volunteers to their team by the end of 2025.

“Our overall goal is to ensure that children in foster care are represented, and their voices are heard in family court,” said Angie Blumel, Jackson County CASA President and CEO. Volunteers collaborate with eight on-staff Guardian ad Litem (GAL) attorneys, trained to serve the best interests of the child in court, and are supported by advocate supervisors, who act as a liaison between the volunteer and court. Rounding out CASA’s volunteer corps are around 40 pro bono attorneys who fill a dual role as CASA volunteer and GAL. 

“Our volunteers have a desire to be in a child’s corner and serve as their champion,” said Angie. “No special training or background is needed; it’s people who want to help a kiddo through this really challenging system.”

Growing with CSF

The Jackson County Children’s Services Fund has partnered with Jackson County CASA since 2018. 

“I’ll never forget the day we received our first round of funding,” said Angie. “Our first award was $75,000. And I was over-the-moon excited about it.”

That first assist from the CSF helped CASA add a GAL and advocate supervisor to their staff. As their CSF funding has increased over the years, they’ve continued to grow their support staff, including older-youth specialists, who address the unique needs of teens preparing to leave the foster care system. “CSF has absolutely allowed us to expand,” said Angie.

Great results bring more responsibility

“In the past, we’ve served about 50 percent of the kids under jurisdiction of family court in Jackson County,” said Angie. “But in 2023, we entered into an agreement with Jackson County Family Court to expand our partnership to be able to serve nearly 100 percent of the children in care over the next couple of years.”

Previously, the court employed attorneys who served foster children without a CASA team, but the advantages of having that well-rounded support were increasingly clear. 

“The children that we’re serving spend less time in foster care,” explained Angie. “They have higher rates of reunification with a safer, healthier parent. We also see in that data that we have consistent outcomes across demographics, which is really exciting. There’s real disproportionality within our system, and it’s something that we are all looking to change.” 

The court and Jackson County CASA partnered to make sure every child would get the benefit of a CASA team. By the end of 2025, Jackson County CASA will serve around 2,000 children each year — and they’ll need hundreds more volunteers to do so. 

Scaling up advocacy with CSF support

The CSF is helping Jackson County CASA grow to meet those doubling responsibilities. CSF awards in 2024 cover two separate initiatives — both making a big impact on the mental health and wellbeing of area foster children. 

  1. Volunteer Attorney Guardian Ad Litem Intervention & Advocacy ($205,2000)

Claire Terrebonne, the organization’s Vice President of Operations, had been recruiting and training volunteer GALs as she met interested attorneys through her professional network. This award helped Jackson County CASA bring on two new staff members, an attorney and a pro bono specialist, to guide and support the volunteer GAL program.

“This was an opportunity to formalize an informal but long-standing pro-bono program,” said Claire, “that helped us serve more children.”  

The new staff members will help recruit, onboard, train and supervise GAL volunteers to ensure foster children have consistent attorney support throughout their cases, which commonly last between 18 months and two years. 

  1. Intervention and Advocacy for Abused and Neglected Children in Jackson County ($260,820)

This award helps fund the equivalent of one CASA support team: An attorney GAL, an advocate supervisor and an older-youth specialist. (The organization anticipates supporting 300 to 400 14- to 19-year-olds per year, even though the largest segment of children in foster care are under 5.) Flexible CASA support staff take on cases as capacity shifts and help CASA volunteers provide much-needed stability in foster children’s lives. 

“For our kids, continuity is really important,” said Claire, explaining that children in foster care have often had adults fail to show up for them.  “We don’t want to be the ones who step away.”

Connecting with the wider CSF network

In addition to courtroom support, Jackson County CASA has emergency assistance and enrichment funding to help with things like furnishing homes for reunifying families and helping older foster children with graduation caps and gowns and independent housing searches. They also help connect children and families with other CSF partners for resources CASA doesn’t provide. 

“We have a unique perspective, in that we work with most of the CSF-funded organizations,” said Angie. “Our kids might need therapy from MOCSA; they might need driving lessons from FosterAdopt Connect. We look to all of the organizations in our community to provide services for our kids and families. We’re always connecting to make sure they have what they need.” 

Looking ahead

After a successful capital campaign in 2021 and settling into their new, expanded space across the street from the family court in 2023, Jackson County CASA has their eyes on the future. They are excited to be the Chiefs Charity Game recipient for 2024-2026, not only for the fundraising opportunities, but to be able to create memories for their children and families. 

Jackson County CASA is also a partner on a new CSF collaborative award, led by FosterAdopt Connect, to establish a Safe Babies Court Team to serve the families of infants and toddlers in the family court system. The collaborative funding includes Jackson County CASA, Zero to Three, the Jackson County Children’s Division and the Jackson County Family Court. 

“It’s really exciting to see the court responding to the needs of kids and families in foster care because of community relationships and opportunities like funding through Children’s Services Fund,” said Angie. 

Claire echoed her excitement and forecasted even more initiatives several years down the road: “The number of kids entering foster care is going down, and that’s a good thing. Once we have our feet under us, after we scale up, we have a place in prevention work. We can see upstream from where we’re at!” 

Whatever is ahead, they’ll continue to reach out to CSF for help supporting Jackson County’s young people. 

“I’ve been in the field almost 30 years, and I’ve never seen a funder like Jackson County Children’s Services Fund,” said Angie. “They are very forward-thinking. They’re very flexible. They want you to be successful and are incredibly supportive and great to work with.” 

Learn more about the partner organizations the CSF supports. 

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