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CASA volunteers needed in local area

Voices for Children/CASA of Southeast Missouri is currently looking for more volunteers to help children who are in foster care due to child abuse or neglect in the 32nd and 33rd Judicial Circuit Courts – including Cape Girardeau County, Bollinger County, Perry County, Mississippi County and Scott County.

Volunteers are sworn in as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to be the voice for foster children during court proceedings. These volunteers speak with the children regularly and advocate for what’s in the best interest of the child.

“We’re unique,” Executive Director Sharon Hileman said. “We are the only organization who has volunteers that are actually sworn in to the court.”

Between volunteers and two Voices for Children staff members, the organization is able to serve 104 children in foster care, though there are currently 522 foster children in the area. The local organization currently has 23 CASA volunteers, down from more than 70 volunteers pre-pandemic.

“There is no way we can serve that many kids because there’s just not enough volunteers,” Hileman said, adding that the decline in volunteers started during the pandemic and has now shifted even lower because of economic conditions.

Hileman said they are actively recruiting more volunteers so more of these children will have an advocate in the court system. “The more CASA volunteers we have, the more children we can serve,” she said.

CASA volunteers must be at least 21 years old, pass a background check and go through 30 hours of training – 15 hours of in-person training and 15 hours of online training. In addition, CASA volunteers cannot be a current foster parent or an employee of the Missouri Children’s Division or a state juvenile office.

Hileman said volunteers are not required to have any prior court experience – only to be compassionate, non-judgmental and have the heart to help children in need. “They don’t transport kids; they don’t take kids home – they are just there as a mentor and advocate,” she said.

Hileman said CASA volunteers spend an average of four hours a month on a case, though some experienced volunteers have taken on multiple cases and volunteer around 25-30 hours each month.

“Our CASAs build trust with these kids and they learn everything there is to know about them,” Hileman said. “CASAs are told things that caseworkers don’t know or anybody else on the court won’t know. They are the true eyes and ears for the judge.”

Hileman said CASA volunteers submit court reports and speak at court hearings about what they learn from the children. “Those court reports are detailed,” she said. “The kids know that they’re going to be shared with the judge and eventually the entire team, so this is their time to shine. Even though these kids are not in court representing themselves, they have a CASA there doing that for them.”

CASA volunteers also monitor the progress of the case until it is settled and the child is permanently placed in a safe environment. Hileman said foster children who are assisted by a trained CASA volunteers leave the foster system an average of one year earlier than those who are not appointed a CASA.

“We’ve had several instances of kids who have been in the system and their case stalled out for whatever reason,” Hileman said. “We’ve had to poke the bear and get things moving.”

In addition, children assisted by CASA volunteers have a higher graduation rate and are less likely to experience homelessness. “They have somebody that they have been able to learn to earn trust with,” Hileman said.

Voices for Children has a Fostering Futures program, which helps youth aged 14-18 who are likely to age out of foster care. Hileman said volunteers help mentor these teenagers and give them resources to make the transition out of foster care as smooth as possible.

“Often these older teens age out without a support system – they don’t have any family, they haven’t been adopted and they don’t have a guardian,” Hileman said. “We want to make sure that they graduate high school and that these kids are getting what they need regarding housing, a job and further education.”

Voices for Children/CASA of Southeast Missouri is a member of the National CASA Association, which was established in 1977. The local organization was formed in 1992, covering cases in Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties. The organization expanded to include Mississippi and Scott counties in 2019.

People can become a volunteer by visiting and clicking the “get involved” tab.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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