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How you can lend a voice to Richmond children in need: 'It's really pretty amazing'

Posted at 1:48 PM, Oct 06, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Richmond program that aims to be a voice for children in the court and foster care systems is putting the call out for more volunteers, saying they have dozens of children that need their help.

"I don't want to use the word crisis. But, I also don't want to get to a point where I would use that word," Richmond CASA Program Director Jessica Moore said.

CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a program that exists nationwide and pairs volunteers with abused and neglected children to be their advocates in the court system. The volunteers interview the children and those in their lives and then make recommendations about what is best for the child.

"We're not making the decisions, we don't have the authority to do that or really the knowledge or skill to do that," said Moore. "We're literally just helping the judge know what they need to know to be able to make decisions that are educated."

Moore said right now they have 62 volunteers supporting 104 kids.

However, Moore said there are 45 kids without an advocate.

She said she would like to see their volunteer number climb to 100 and hopes to have at least 25 people signed up for their upcoming training session in January (noting the fall training session was canceled because of not enough volunteers).

"CASAs are the consistent factor for each of our kids, you know. When you think about our people's own kids, it's that connection, it's because of familiarity, and having somebody who's always there," said Moore. "When you take a child out of their family or you have a family who's going through crisis and these kids are experiencing change after change and everything is different for them -- that's scary. And so, the CASA is that person who continues to show up, no matter where that child goes, no matter what school they're attending -- they're the person that they see over and over. And that, I think, is one of the most important factors to our kids about having a CASA not just to speak up for them in court and tell the judge, Here's what's going on. But, here's also what the child wants you to know.' But also just to be that face that there they see all the time."

Moore said the training program lasts one month, but the majority of sessions are in the evening.

She said while they do ask people to commit to at least 18 months (but saying many people end up working one case for much longer), the amount of time spent doing the work should not be a concern.

"Once you get sworn in and you take your case, it's really up to you. We say here in Richmond about 10 to 12 hours a month that gets spent on your case that that varies by jurisdiction -- but, that's our requirement," said Moore. "There are few things in there that are scheduled things you have to be somewhere at a certain time, like hearings and meetings for the child. But, those are the exception. Usually, it's just if you work during the day, you visit the child at night or on the weekends or if you're more flexible -- it's really where in your schedule does it fit."

Roseann Salasin has volunteered for CASA for over six years and said the experience has been rewarding.

Roseann Salasin
CASA volunteer Roseann Salasin

"It's really pretty amazing," said Salasin. "I felt that I was doing this to pay forward my blessings and to help other people. And it has helped me just as much."

"They have been dealt some of the worst hands in life that children should not be dealt. Experiences, children should not experience, but they are so resilient. And as you support them, you just see them rise up," Salasin said of what she has witnessed. "And it's not even just them, you know, as they, begin to find their core in life and what they're able to do, they pull up their family, too. The case that I have right now it's a sister that's taken in a sister and it's just incredible to see the love between the two of them and how through the support of CASA and the systems, they're able to really thrive."

Salasin said her time has also helped expand her understanding of situations that people find themselves in and said she used to think that parents whose children end up in foster care, just did not care to do what they needed to do as parents.

"And now that I've been involved in CASA, I see that that's not really the case. It's generational. The parents also were dealt a bad hand, the parents never had what they needed to understand to become productive adults, so they don't know how to parent," explained Salsin. "And that is the saddest thing, which is why CASA is so important. Because if you can get into involved into a child's life when they're younger and help to turn that around, they become productive lives. Their life is better, our systems are better, we're all better for it."

She said she has seen firsthand the impact a volunteer can have on a child by being the constant factor in their life.

"I have gone to birthday parties, I've gone to basketball games, and it's pretty amazing. I remember the first basketball game that I got to go to and I got there and I went and I sat on the bleachers and the child was out there playing and when she saw me and she saw that I showed up, you just saw this incredible smile on her face that she was like, 'Oh my God, someone cares about me. They showed up to my game,'," said Salasin. "It was it was just amazing."

And to anyone thinking about becoming a volunteer -- Salasin has this advice.

"Take the plunge. The staff is great. The training is great. And what you get out of it, personally, when you see how resilient these children are -- it even helps you to be more resilient. You know that life can be hard, but we can do hard things. So just do it," said Salasin. "You're like the North Star for these kids. They change, their schools change, their placement changes, the doctors change, everyone changes in their life. But you don't and you show up and that allows them to be powerful, that allows them to be grounded."

Anyone interested in volunteering is asked to reach out to Richmond CASA's volunteer coordinator Sarah-Keel Crews at volunteer@grscan.com or you can call 804-257-7226.

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