Fayetteville, Ark. (KNWA) — As a child is placed into foster care because of abuse or neglect, there are a lot of people involved as a court case plays out. A team of special advocates is making sure the children’s needs do not get overlooked.
Ramon Portilla and his wife spent months trying to become foster parents.
Then they got a call in March 2009.
“It was a call from the DHS letting us know that there was this 13-month young boy that needed a placement,” Portilla said.
At first, Connor was just supposed to stay for maybe a couple of weeks.
“I will never forget that first night. My daughter, my wife and I just put a little thing next to our bedroom and we just made sure he got a good sleep and that’s how the journey started,” Portilla said.
That journey was made easier by CASA…A court-appointed special advocate. These advocates help abused and neglected children in the court system.
“Our volunteers meet with the children, the foster family, the biological family, teachers, therapists, medical professionals,” CASA of Northwest Arkansas Executive Director Crystal Vickmarck said.
It is all to make sure the child’s needs are met.
“Last year we served 970 children,” Vickmarck said.
She added that that still was not enough to cover all of the children in the foster care system in Northwest Arkansas.
“We know that this year, we have to train 130 volunteers in order to meet the need of the children in the system this year,” she said.
Vickmarck says anyone can make a good advocate if he or she has a passion for helping children.
“One day, someone knocked on the door and introduced themselves as our CASA advocate,” Portilla said.
It made a huge difference for the Portilla family as Connor’s case played out in court.
“She was side by side with us again preparing us and making sure we were up to date about what was going to happen through this journey,” Portilla said.
A year and a half after the journey began, the Portilla family was made whole when Connor’s adoption was finalized.
CASA said the number of children in foster care goes up every year, so it constantly needs to train new volunteers.
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