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Macon County CASA Seeking Volunteers

In cases of child abuse or neglect, the Department of
Children and Family Services case workers sometimes have dozens of kids to
keep track of.

A Macon County group is helping provide a second set of
eyes. Court appointed special advocates, help keep kids from slipping through
the cracks.

Currently Macon County has around 500 kids in the juvenile
court system. Macon County CASA can serve only a small percent of those kids,
but organizers hope, with help from the community, they can increase that amount
to at least half.

"Our goal is to advocate for children to have a safe,
loving, nurturing home. And we want that to be with their families as much as
anybody else if that's what's best for them," Executive Director Pam
Burkhart said.

A court appointed special advocate will spend a minimum of five
hours per month with a child in the court system.  They'll meet with kids and talk to them about
their home life. Based on what they see over a series of these visits, advocates
write a court report to be used in conjunction with a DCFS report.

"DCFS is pretty well and overwhelming job. So what we
hope is that we give it a different perspective and we hope that we can work
together with the rest of the resources that a family has to get best outcomes
for kids," Burkhart explained.

Jane Mescher has been a casa volunteer for four years. She
wanted to use the skills she learned as a teacher, to continue helping

"So many of the kids, I did notice, definitely needed a
helping hand and somebody to stick up for them," Mescher said.

Mescher says she's worked with young kids, and teenagers in
high school. She emphasizes how important it is to listen to what the kids
want, but make a recommendation based on what's really best for them.

"What they say and what they do sometimes is not the
same. So I look at their behavior at school, their grades, and comments from
the teachers and put together the whole story there because sometimes the kids
are coaches by family. That may not necessarily be what's really going on in
the home," Mescher said.

Working as a court appointed special advocate is a big commitment.
CASA hopes to keep advocates around for kids, the entire time they're in the
system, so they have some stability.

If you're interested in volunteering, CASA is now planning
daytime and evening classes. Overall you'll receive about 30 hours of training.

Organizers hope to fill each class session with at least
eight volunteers. Classes are scheduled to begin next week.