MAGIC VALLEY — Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CASA program has seen an increase in foster youth needing support. Usually, the program has around 250 children they are providing support to, but right now, there are over 300 kids needing advocates, which means they are also in need of volunteers.
"Since COVID hit, we hit a 13 year low. We hit a real low as far as our number of volunteers," Anne Sharp, Advocate Coordinator for the CASA Program, said.
Usually, the program prefers to have one advocate per child, but with only 47 volunteers and over 300 children, that has been tough to accomplish.
Volunteers are in charge of interviewing the children and people in the child's life to gather information to better advocate in court for the child's best interest. But with the lack of volunteers, it has been hard for them to focus as much time as they would like to on each child. The pandemic has also caused some bumps in the road since everything has to be done virtually.
"Usually, when you're going into the homes to visit the kids, you get to know them really well, and you get to know the foster parents," Julene Walker, a 13-year-volunteer for the CASA program, said.
Since schools were not held in person for some time, this also impacted foster youth.
"For child protection cases, sometimes they come directly from the schools so when the kids aren't in school, and the kids aren't observing a change of behavior or something else, then I think some of those kids that are in abusive homes are not being found out," Walker said.
The lack of volunteers has meant most advocates have not been able to spend as much time on each case as they usually do.
"And that's the thing that always breaks our heart. We know that when there's a volunteer on the case, we know that families are getting that one on one attention because they're only carrying as many as two cases at a time. So they get a chance to know the kids and the families and the situations, and when we don't have that, it's not the same," Sharp said.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with the program, you can visit their website or call 208-735-1177.