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LOOSELEAF LAUREATE: Imagine being a child with no solid footing

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By Terri Likens, Editor

I once worked at a Midwest newspaper with a young woman named Betsy. She was gentle and exceptionally shy for a reporter.
After I had gotten to know her better, she told me she had grown up in the foster system. Suddenly I understood her unsureness and mannerisms — the way she protectively held her hand in front of her mouth when she spoke.
We never talked in detail about her life in foster care, but I feel sure some of her experiences were not good ones.
The only way I can imagine what it might feel like to lose the security of parents is to remember the few weeks after I learned my father’s cancer was terminal. Even for me, a 40-something adult who had lived on my own since I was 18, it felt like the floor was caving in under me.
I thought of Betsy about a year ago when representatives came to me from a group that helps abused, abandoned and neglected children get through the court system — either to a foster home, to another family member, or when appropriate, back to their own parents.
This group gives voice to the voiceless.
The group is called CASA, which stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocate.
I like the name because it also is Spanish for house — which represents shelter, structure, home — all the things a child needs to feel secure.
CASA of the 9th District was born when Roane County members decided to split from CASA of the Heartland, an Oak Ridge-based group. It’s hard to be in the shadow of Oak Ridge.
Representatives asked if I would serve on the board. I was initially reluctant, only because of a busy schedule.
Jack McNew, a CASA volunteer who also is chairman of the board, won me over. He’s a tender-hearted man who takes his mission seriously.
Having splintered from the Oak Ridge group, especially in these tough economic times, has been difficult.
For a time, we wondered if we would have the funds to survive.
Some grants came through, but survival still is uncertain.
Chances are, as this group looks for resources and funds, you will hear more about them and their mission.
They — we — may ask for your help, as a CASA volunteer or for fundraising.
And rest assured, they are saving you tax dollars as they selflessly pursue this work.
CASA, at the national level, released statistics that indicate CASA involvement can significantly reduce a child’s time in foster care.
Who pays for that foster care?
You guessed right if your answer was the taxpayers.
I don’t think of tax savings when I think of CASA, however.
I think of Betsy and children like her.