Full Shelves and Full Hearts: Supporting Childhood Health and Safety

Posted in: News

Special Series for Child Abuse Prevention Month

Since 1983, April has been recognized as Child Abuse Prevention Month across the United States. This month-long advocacy and educational outreach campaign has a long history. In 1974, the first federal child protection legislation, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA, was passed. CAPTA has been amended many times over the years and in 2003 was renamed the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act.

One population that is protected by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act are youth who are navigating the foster care system. There are many adults and agencies who work with this group, including Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Guardian Ad Litems (GAL). Both CASAs and GALs play an important role in advocating in and out of the courtroom for children who are navigating the foster care system. 

Kimberly Kester, a lead language arts teacher with Mizzou Academy, served as a CASA volunteer in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Missouri. Kester shares that her “experience with CASA helped me to be a better person.” She says this might not be the response you expect. “You probably expected me to say how I made the lives of children better, and I hope I did. However, I changed as well. Being a CASA volunteer helped me to see children and their grown-ups from a different perspective. I was no longer a mother or teacher, I was an advocate for that special child. In the classroom, my experience with CASA helped me to be more inclusive and empathetic. I learned about different types of families and how they love and care for the people they hold dear. I grew as a mother and educator because I learned about diversity and inclusion and applied this knowledge to my life and the world around me.”

Locally, Heart of Missouri CASA (HOM CASA) serves the children in Boone and Callaway counties who are navigating foster care. HOM CASA was founded in 2005 and is part of the National CASA/GAL Association network. 

According to their website, “Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers watch over and advocate for children who have experienced abuse and neglect to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal system or languish in an inappropriate group or foster home. They stay with each case until it is closed, and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence—the one adult who cares only for their best interest.” The need for this work is great. Every year, more than  650 abused and neglected children in Boone and Callaway counties alone pass through the 13th Circuit Juvenile Court System because they are unable to live safely at home.

Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, executive director of Mizzou Academy, also serves as a CASA advocate and ambassador.  She and her mother are currently advocating for three youth (ages 3-12). A few months ago, Fishman-Weaver shared that the Heart of Missouri CASA supply shelves were getting thin. Advocates often find materials on these shelves to bring to children during home visits and special occasions. 

Within minutes of sharing this, the Mizzou Academy team put together a call to bring supplies and toys to the next all-team meeting.

Steven Turner, a technologist for Mizzou Academy, spoke with his sons, Kalvin (10) and Jackson (9) about the drive. Turner said, “We talked about the justice/court system, and the role they play in situations where children’s needs are not being met at home.” Turner coaches several youth sports and told his sons that coaching is one way to be a positive presence in the lives of children who might not have that at home. He also drew on an important family role model, the boys’ grandma, who served on the Kids Harbor Board for years.

Kids Harbor, Inc. is a child advocacy center that serves Central Missouri (Lake of the Ozarks, Fort Leonard Wood, and surrounding areas). They assist victims of child abuse and their safe caregivers as they navigate a child abuse investigation. Kids’ Harbor, Inc. was established in Camdenton, Missouri, by a task force of concerned community members in 2001. They are nationally accredited by the National Children’s Alliance.

Knowing that they were continuing their grandma’s work, Kalvin and Jackson were eager to brainstorm ways to help. With their parents’ help, they donated sports equipment, including soccer and basketballs, to bring joy and sports to neighboring youth in Boone and Callaway counties.

At the all-team meeting, it was clear that everyone had been thinking of the children receiving services through CASA. Our teachers, technologists, and support staff all arrived with bag after bag of supplies. They carried in sports equipment, coloring books, art materials, stuffed animals, and science kits. 

Fishman-Weaver said the response was “overwhelming but not surprising when you consider this team.” She thanked the team and spoke compassionately about the three children she is currently advocating for. 

After the meeting, several people helped Fishman-Weaver load everything into her small blue car, which she drove directly to the CASA office.  The CASA team was delighted and stunned. By the time everything was unpacked, the supply and bookshelves were fully-stocked again.  

“As we stood back to admire the toys, art supplies, books, games, and personal care items, I noticed a bright row of soccer and basketballs from the Turner family at the top of the shelves.” 

Fishman-Weaver shared, “The shelves are full and so are our hearts.”

Like many of the students we serve at Mizzou Academy, Steven Turner’s sons are young. However, he found a way to talk with them about the complex topics of child welfare. This embodies our approach to student leadership at Mizzou Academy. So often, we remind teachers and students that young people don’t have to wait to start making a positive difference. Through the supply drive, Kalvin and Jackson found a way to make a positive difference for children who are navigating the complexities of the foster care system. 

This April we encourage you to follow their lead, by finding out more about organizations and agencies who are supporting children who have experienced abuse, neglect, or trauma. If you are an educator or caregiver, you can also teach your students about these organizations. Together, let’s find ways to support the essential work happening in our communities to keep children safe. 

National and State Resources linked below: