by Kari Apted
Ellen King and other Alcovy CASA representatives have made it their mission to provide the softest landing possible for abused and neglected children taken into foster care by the Department of Family and Children’s Services.
When Ellen King retired from the Newton County Health Department, she promised herself she would continue giving back to the community she loved. As a health department nurse, she frequently went on home visits as part of the Zero to Three program. The experience helped her transition easily to visiting children in their homes as an Alcovy CASA advocate.
CASA stands for “Court Appointed Special Advocate” and is a national association that provides a voice for abused or neglected children taken into foster care by the Department of Family and Children’s Services. Alcovy CASA represents children who have entered the system in Newton and Walton counties. As the name indicates, volunteer advocates work with the courts, parents, teachers and other professionals to ensure the best possible outcome for children in foster care.
“If you want to help kids, this is a good way to do it. It has its joys and its sorrows. Like so much of life, you have to go through the tough times to get to the good parts. I often end up falling in love with the families I help.”Alcovy CASA Advocate Ellen King
“Most of the families are very receptive to CASA help. After all, I’m the child’s advocate,” King said. “I make recommendations to the court on their behalf. I’m not the person who implements things; I just try to get everyone’s point of view and then work toward the outcome they would like to see.”
Becoming a CASA volunteer can be a vehicle to help foster children and teenagers without taking the plunge into full foster parenthood. Advocates must be at least 21 years old, complete 40 hours of training and commit to the program for at least one year—the length of most court cases. On average, a CASA advocate will spend six to eight hours each month volunteering.
When asked about the emotional investment of being a CASA advocate, King called the work stressful but fulfilling.
“If you want to help kids, this is a good way to do it,” King said. “It has its joys and its sorrows. Like so much of life, you have to go through the tough times to get to the good parts. I often end up falling in love with the families I help.”
Alcovy CASA Executive Director Lindsay Dycus emphasizes that King’s 10 years of CASA service has had a profoundly positive impact on the community.
“As the director, knowing when Ellen accepts a case, I know with zero doubt that the child will be blessed by knowing Ellen and the careful way she gets to know that child,” she said. “She has a wonderful way with children, young and old, and they are comforted by her presence, her kind and honest words and her gentle and quirky spirit. What does a child need more in their life than comfort when they are facing foster care?”
Dycus sees a quiet and patient grace in King.
“I have watched as Ellen walked into a stress-filled courthouse, and the kids she was advocating for ran to hug her,” she said. “I have watched Ellen comfort saddened children when foster care became too much. Ellen has read books, played games, held hands, taken walks with, listened intently [and] dried tears but most importantly has been a reckoning force for the best interest of a child.”
“[Ellen] has a wonderful way with children, young and old, and they are comforted by her presence, her kind and honest words and her gentle and quirky spirit. What does a child need more in their life than comfort when they are facing foster care?”Alcovy CASA Executive Director Lindsay Dycus
King and Dycus strongly encourage others to join their mission of helping the most vulnerable members of the community. Children with a CASA advocate spend less time in foster care than kids who go without, experience fewer transitions between homes and are more likely to be placed with their siblings under the roof of a responsible family member.
“Something is happening with the kids in our community lately. There has been a real onslaught of kids going into foster care,” King said. “I recently received an email asking volunteers to take on another case if they can. All kids need a CASA; all kids should have one.”
Dycus agrees with those sentiments.
“More children in our community need more people like Ellen to step up and stand in the gap for them,” she said. “Dozens of Newton County foster care children still need a CASA advocate. Please consider [contacting us] to learn how you can volunteer to forever change a child’s story.”
For more information about Alcovy CASA, including how to volunteer, visit alcovycasa.org.