COVID causes strain on volunteers for CASA of Sedgwick County

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Many non-profits across the region report low volunteer numbers, including CASA of Sedgwick County. One volunteer explained, in some cases, their work can be life-saving.

“Without going into too much detail, unfortunately, they were in the system far too long before they got adopted and not being able to fix the situation that they were in, and remove them out of what we knew could be death, you know life or death to them was super hard,” said Hannah Elder, who became a CASA volunteer in 2020.

It was that helplessness, Elder felt, watching family members go through the foster care system, that led her to volunteer as a CASA.

“I’ve seen a case go through the system without a CASA, and I see this case where I’m appointed to, with a CASA, and I think it makes a world of difference to the kids,” said Elder.

A court-appointed special advocate is a volunteer who moves through the court system with children in foster care. That volunteer can sometimes be the most consistent person in that child’s life.

“Case managers, other professionals involved in their case and in their lives, even their placements sometimes will change month-to-month, week-to-week,” said Kim Gerstenkorn, executive director for CASA of Sedgwick County.

“They are experiencing constant transition and change, and so our goal with the CASA volunteer is to have one consistent person that they can know their face and expect them to show up.”

That consistency allows CASA volunteers to know who they’re representing, then make recommendations regarding placement and needed services, as well as monitor the child’s situation until the courts release the case.

“It’s obviously not going to get to the courts, and to the right, people if the child can’t speak and tell someone about it, and so a CASA is there to sort of be an extra set of eyes and ears outside of the court system,” said Elder.

In 2019, CASA had about 120 volunteers who helped serve approximately 230 children. A year later, the number of volunteers shrunk to 40, with only 58 children served.

“We have no educational requirements, no specific background or training requirements,” said Gerstenkorn.

The time commitment is about 10 to 20 hours a month for at least a year, but the impact can be lifelong for these kids.

“We can’t lose sight of these kids. Just because they’re in the system, they’re just as important as every other child that has a loving home,” said Elder.

According to officials, kids who have a CASA experience less long-term trauma, do better in school and are less likely to re-enter foster care and find permanency an average of two-and-a-half months sooner than kids who don’t have a CASA.

People can complete an application to become a CASA online, or fill out a volunteer reference form.

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