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Every child deserves a fighting chance

Right now in our community, there are abused and neglected children who live in the shadows of our lives. She may be the little girl in your son's kindergarten class who had to move from home and change schools three or four times in the last year. He may be the lonely child at the park who does not join the game.

The foster care and child welfare systems are full of compassionate lawyers, judges, social workers and foster families. But, according to recent statistics, each year more than 660,000 children are placed in foster care nationally. This intense need can strain the system to the point where it is simply unable to protect the rights of each child.

So the little girl who already suffered in an abusive home enters the foster care system. This places her in three or four different homes in just a few months. Or the two siblings who lost their mother to incarceration are split up and live on different sides of the same county. This is not just a problem, it is nothing short of a violation of their human rights. A child cannot defend his or her own rights, but a Court Appointed Advocate (CASA) can.

CASA is a national nonprofit organization. Dougherty County CASA trains and supports advocates -- people like you and me -- to speak and act as advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children. They are trained to work within the child welfare and family court systems and are appointed by judges to individual cases. With the help of a CASA advocate, a child is half as likely to languish in the foster care system and that much more likely to find a safe and permanent home.

I have seen firsthand the transformative impact a CASA volunteer can have on a child. But today only 36 percent of the children in need have access to a CASA advocate. That leaves nearly 400,000 children who do not have that advocate. We are dedicated to ensuring that every child in the foster care and child welfare system has a qualified CASA advocate looking out for his or her best interests. To do this, we need to more than double the 75,000 current CASA advocates in 950 local offices nationwide. Especially needed are persons with passion and a love for children.

Dougherty CASA has 67 foster children in care and 28 volunteers advocating for a safe and permanent home for our children. This is a cry for help.

Every child has a right to thrive. To be treated with dignity ... to live in a safe and loving home. Every child deserves a fighting chance.

Once grown, these former foster kids could be our future doctors, teachers and leaders. Coming through a period of vulnerability and fear, the child can then understand his potential and his rights. She will believe in herself. That is our opportunity and our challenge.

I invite the people of Albany/Dougherty County to stand up with me and support these children. Please call (229) 435-0074 and see how you can help.

EVELYN MOORE-COOKLEY

Albany

EDITOR'S NOTE: Evelyn Moore-Cookley is Dougherty CASA program director.