It’s not unusual to see or read stories about children who find themselves in our legal system through no fault of their own. Foster children, those who have been abused and/or neglected, find that the court system becomes a part of their lives. What’s truly sad is that in most cases these children don’t have an advocate in their corner speaking up for them as decisions about their lives are being made. Every child should have a voice and a hopeful future!

Monroe County is fortunate to have a Wisconsin CASA program. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. The organization’s volunteers help give children a voice in the courts by spending time with these children to assess their situation and needs and to make sure they are heard by the court. It’s been proven that children with a CASA spend far less time in foster care and have better long-term outcomes than a child without a CASA; on average, eight months less in the system.

As an organization, Wisconsin CASA works with legislators, judiciary, law enforcement, social workers, child care workers and volunteers to spread the word about what CASA is, does and why it’s important to establish a CASA program in every Wisconsin county. There are currently nine CASA programs in Wisconsin serving 12 counties, including Brown, Columbia, Dane, La Crosse, Manitowoc, Marinette, Milwaukee, Monroe, Outagamie, Rock, Sauk and Vernon.

Some 690 children were served by a local CASA program. But the need is far beyond that. In 2016, roughly 6,400 children in Wisconsin were in a “child in need of protection or services” case. That means more than 89 percent of those children were not served by a CASA. That has to change.

One way we work on bringing about that change is by meeting on a yearly basis. Our program volunteers and staff meet for an annual conference with a wide variety of stakeholders to talk about the issues surrounding children in our courts system, as well as sharing and developing solutions to the challenges. The 16th annual Wisconsin CASA Association State Conference takes place Saturday, Nov. 11 at St. Norbert College in De Pere. Among the various issues to be discussed: understanding trauma, domestic violence, aiding children in need and how immigration law impacts Wisconsin families. Breakout sessions will focus on keeping children and families safe, cultural competence training, development monitoring and screening, and being safe in daily life.

Any time we can bring people together to better understand these issues and how we can help children in need is important. The goal is to have attendees come away with renewed energy, enthusiasm and increased knowledge. If you care about children in need, why not consider joining us? If not at the conference, then by becoming a volunteer or starting a CASA program in your county. It could very well be the most meaningful thing you do, and it will have a major impact on a child in need.

For more information about WI CASA as well as the annual conference, go to wisconsincasa.org.

Sue Schwartz is executive director of Wisconsin CASA.

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Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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