Nick Joos

NICK JOOS

The Iowa State Data Center says in 2018, there were 224 children in Clinton County’s foster care system, 28 in Jackson County, 192 in Dubuque County and 442 in Scott County for a total of 886. 

That’s 886 children without a permanent home, stuck in limbo between stashing food under the pillow as an insurance policy and flinching at the sound of a door slamming. 

That’s 886 children whose parents were either down on their luck and needed a hand, or possibly abusive and violent. 

That’s 886 children who, because of their home situations, are finding ways to become as small as possible and merely survive. 

And when children are just surviving, they don’t have time to dream. 

Foster families around the state open their homes as a safe place for these children while their parents’ lives are sorted out. 

By law, parent/child reunification is the state’s ultimate goal. I could dig deeper into whether that’s the best idea in all cases — or whether the system needs some updates (it does) — but not today. 

Today, I want to commend our area foster families who offer their homes to the wayward, to the child who shivers in bed despite the air being warm. 

Due to its central location between urban areas in Scott, Dubuque and Clinton Counties, Jackson County is optimally located for families to shelter children from all those areas. And fostering is only part of the picture.

Each of those 886 kids in 2018 needed an advocate, and while foster parents can offer nutritious meals and soft bedsheets, that in itself can be a full-time job. 

Help is always needed.

Advocate for a foster child

You may have noticed a story within the pages of your hometown newspaper run several times over the past year or so. 

The headline reads “Child advocates needed,” and the short story that follows details an ever-present need for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in eastern Iowa. 

CASA workers are indeed advocates of the highest order. They are not foster parents. They volunteer their time as consultants for the Department of Human Services case workers whose time is spread painstakingly thin while advocating for the kids who need it most. 

CASA workers spend a couple hours per month with an assigned foster child. They review case documents pertaining to the child and interview adult family members and other adults in the child’s life. A CASA worker accompanies a foster child to court proceedings, which can be scary for a little one, and works as a liaison for the foster parents to make sure the family is receiving all the necessary resources, especially regarding the child’s health, education, etc. 

A CASA worker can help give a child confidence as court proceedings advance and assurance that his or her best interests are being considered. 

Personal experiences

One of the Sentinel-Press’ publishers, Nancy Mayfield, served as a CASA volunteer from 2005-2013 when she lived in Dixon, Illinois. 

“I saw a story in the newspaper seeking people interested in becoming a CASA/guardian ad litem, and I was intrigued,” Mayfield said. “I met someone who was on the local CASA board and was also serving as a CASA. Hearing about her personal experiences made me want to do this job. I feel very passionate about making sure children who are in stressful situations through no fault of their own have a way to make their voices heard.”

Understandably, the job is an emotional rollercoaster. Nancy prepared reports for judges to review regarding the kids’ situations. In some cases, the testament of a CASA worker can influence whether a child returns to his or her biological family or becomes adoptable. 

“The judges in my circuit gave a great deal of weight to reports from the CASA, as we really did speak for the children,” Nancy said. “We all took the weight of that responsibility very seriously.”

On a personal note, my wife, Jeni, and I welcomed four foster children — all siblings — into our home for about six months last year and learned innumerable lessons from each of them. 

I witnessed a 12-year-old girl learn how to become a kid again after previously having to help raise her siblings; a 9-year-old boy who’d rarely expressed interest in reading pick up a book and lie on his bedroom floor two chapters deep; an 8-year-old girl learn how to talk about her fears; and a 6-year-old girl shed her training wheels for the first time and ride a bike on her own.

Per the state’s recommendation, they have since gone back with their biological family. 

We made sacrifices, and emotions about their arrival and departure mixed with the joy of watching them dream again. 

It was worth every second. 

Become a CASA worker

For more information about the CASA program, contact Nancy Manion, part of the Child Advocacy Board program, at (563) 323-3616, Ext. 2 or at nancy.manion@dia.iowa.gov.

Manion has been a coordinator with the CASA program for more than 22 years in the Seventh Judicial District in Iowa.  For the past 14 years, Nancy has also coordinated the Iowa Citizens Foster Care Review Board in the Seventh Judicial District covering several counties in central eastern Iowa.