FORSYTH COUNTY -- Abused and neglected children in Forsyth County who may not have a voice to represent them just got 11 times louder.
Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, of Forsyth County welcomed 11 new volunteers to its team of child advocates Monday evening at the Forsyth County Juvenile Court off Bald Ridge Marina Road in Cumming.
They will join more than 100 volunteers who serve as the eyes and ears of the court, collecting information from anyone involved in a child’s life, from parents and family members to social workers, neighbors and teachers.
“There are so many people that come and go, it’s like a revolving door, let along the parents and the homes they’re in,” said Jean Cain, who has been a CASA for about one year.
Social workers change, she said. Lawyers can change. CASA volunteers provide the one stable presence in the life of a child going through the foster care or juvenile justice system.
In the year Cain has been a CASA, she has advocated for seven children.
“It has just been an amazing opportunity for me to just speak for the children and to give them a sense of trust and just knowing that someone represents them and will speak out and will tell the truth, because a lot of times they don’t hear it,” she said.
Being a CASA has not always been easy, Cain said.
“My emotions have run the gamut. I’ve been angry. I’ve been sad. I’ve been excited. I’ve been just rewarded at every step really,” she said. “There’s such a need for the kids to have some consistency and to know that someone cares. And CASA is that person.”
Lori Pupp, advocacy director for CASA, told the incoming group Monday that they, too, would feel a range of emotions.
“There are times when you’re going to feel inadequate. There are times when you’re going to have hard decisions on what to do or to say or to recommend,” Pupp said. “That’s what [the CASA staff] is there for. You have amazing people here to support you.
“There will be tears.There will be laughter.There will be amazing things happening on behalf of kids.”
Before the 11 new advocates took the oath and received their CASA pins, Forsyth County Juvenile Court Chief Judge J. Russell Jackson thanked them for their services on behalf of voiceless children.
“At the beginning of this I told you how important your work is,” he said. “That is more true today than it was even then. For the first time in my 17 years of doing this work I can’t appoint a CASA volunteer on every case. There are kids out there now not being represented.”
He said he would be “flying blind” in making decisions on behalf of children and their families without the information provided to him by CASA volunteers.
“He’s not out in the field with the children and the parents and the families and the foster families and the school houses,” said Antonia Flowers, who has been a CASA since 2002. “We put boots on the ground to collect information for him that he can count on as reliable.”
She said being a CASA is more than simply collecting information.
“What you find is you fall in love with these kids. They’re all different, and they’re all wonderful. They’ve had some bad times, but they’re not here because of anything they’ve done,” she said. “When you can put a child on a better path, that’s always rewarding.”