Almost 98 percent of the children Richland County Court Appointed Special Advocates serve live in poverty. RCCASA volunteers not only change children’s lives in the present, but help shape a better future for their clients.
RCCASA was founded in 1983 and has since grown to be one of the “most efficient [CASA] programs in the country,” according to their website. They try to provide a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to every minor in any court case they receive. The GAL is a volunteer who investigates the life of an abused child in a court case and advocates for them in court.
On average, over three million children each year are reported as being abused or neglected. Unfortunately, most of these children end up in the foster care system for most of their lives or they are not taken away from that destructive environment. This is why the GALs are so important, according to Paige Greene, the Executive Director for RCCASA.
“The court looks at the [GAL] very favorably because they’re a volunteer and they don’t have a dog in the fight. There’s no personal motivator for them, they are completely unbiased,” Greene said.
According to Greene, RCCASA currently has 600 volunteers at their disposal, all of varying ages, genders and racial backgrounds. However, it is still difficult to make sure all the children who need a GAL have one at their disposal. It does take a lot of time, effort and training to be a GAL, but the end result is all worth it, according to Greene.
While the GALs for RCCASA are volunteers, the organization does have employees it needs to pay and also needs funding for recruitment functions so that it can continue to maintain the number of volunteers it currently has and to gain new ones. This is where Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina comes in.
The grant awarded to RCCASA by the foundation went directly towards functions to recruit 100 new volunteers for the GAL program. These functions also served the purpose of raising awareness of how important GALs are and the number of children in need of a GAL for their own case.
While RCCASA has grown since its beginning days as an organization, they still hope to grow and raise awareness in the future. They are applying for a new grant currently that will allow them to go back to “cold cases,” which will have them look back at the court cases of children who have been in the foster care system for about five or more years.
“It’s a great opportunity because the cases will be looked at from beginning to end to see if something slipped through or didn’t get done. Maybe the court ordered counseling but it didn’t take place,” Greene said.
Being awarded this opportunity will allow RCCASA to touch even more lives than they already have, and help the children who feel as though they’ve been forgotten in the foster care system.
“A lot of these cases are generational cases,” Dante Roberts, a Program Manager for RCCASA, said. “Their mother had cases, their grandmother had cases, or they have cousins in care so they just look at it like ‘Oh I’ll just go away for a little bit and then come back.’ Since I’ve been working here we’ve had four or five volunteers become guardians who had guardians before. It’s proven to me that we have influence on their life later.”
“You have the chance to change their life right now, but also change their vision for the future,” Roberts said.