CASA volunteers receive court orders that allow them to obtain anything a child may need who is placed under foster care. Often they make doctor’s appointments, ensure they receive medications when needed, and schedule school tutoring and more.
Until a case is closed, when a child returns to his or her home, us adopted, or grows out of foster care at age 18, CASA volunteers will stay with them the whole way through, providing a positive influence and support figure in their lives.
“The CASA volunteers, sometimes are the only constant person in these children’s lives,” Swanson said.
There were 109 county children in foster care last year, and Swanson said they will spend an average of 14 months in foster homes, adding that 4 out of every 1,000 kids in Wilson County are in foster care. The state average is 5 out of every 1,000.
“That’s the equivalent of six classrooms full of children,” Swanson said of the number of kids in foster care in the county.
She said the number of foster homes is “not enough” in the county and added they have children who are in homes in Memphis, Clarksville and in McMinn County because there is no place for them in Wilson.
“The general public doesn’t know what a child in foster care goes through,” she said.
When the Department of Children Services gets involved in an abuse case and a child is placed into foster care, with or without a CASA volunteer, Swanson said the children are not only traumatized by their experience, but their entire surroundings change very quickly.
The children are taken from their homes and placed into a new environment that is strange to them and are surrounded by adults that they do not know. Swanson noted while the children are removed from an awful situation, they still go through extreme hardships.
“As an adult, that would make you very uncomfortable, but as a child you would be very scared,” Swanson said. “Children in foster care are very resilient.”
In Wilson County, 43 percent of abuse cases last year were drug-related, while 24 percent were sexual in nature and 14 percent were related to neglect. Swanson said the most common type of case involves parents who are addicted to drugs and incapable of caring for their children.
In those cases, she said the children would be placed in foster care and in some cases the parents became clean and sober and serving punishment and the children could return to their homes, other times they would have to stay in foster care.
Children who spend most of their lives in foster care before turning 18 face a difficult road ahead when graduating out. Swanson said that unless foster children have a volunteer, foster parent or others who care for them, they are more likely to have a troubled adult life.
“A lot of them end up in jail and a lot of them end up homeless,” Swanson said. She said nationally, one-in-four children who “age out” of foster care will be incarcerated within the first two years and over one-fifth will be homeless at some point in their life.
While Wilson County is known for strong efforts to help local charities, Swanson said that aiding organizations like CASA and foster children goes overlooked. She felt the response to helping these children could be a more concerted effort.
“I feel like the general support for foster care in this community could be stepped up,” she said.
She said that often times, people will refrain from reporting child abuse for thinking they shouldn’t interfere in the lives of their neighbors.
“I think we’ve become a society where we think ‘it’s none of my business,’” Swanson said.
You can call CASA to inquire about becoming a volunteer or help their organization by making a monetary donation. You may contact them at 443-2002, and you can get more information about them and can donate online at www.wilsoncountycasa.org.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.