CASA Board of Directors, pictured from left, are Chancery Judge Mark Maples, CASA Executive Director Frances Allsup, Board President Jeffrey Pierce, Shawn Landrum. Rene’ Shaw, Board Secretary Samantha Bignell, Derek McCoy, Mollie Hillburn and Brandon Riches.
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Child Advocate Program Expands Into George and Greene Counties

The local Court Appointed Special Advocate organization, better known as CASA, has expanded into George and Greene counties.

Jackson County CASA leaders and volunteers hosted a reception at the George County Center of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Multipurpose Education Facility on Sept. 8 unveiling the name change to CASA of Southeast Mississippi. The new name will better reflect the organization’s commitment to serving not only Jackson County but also George County and Greene County. CASA serves children in the court system who are victims of abuse or neglect.

Chancery Judge Mark Maples, a CASA board member, was the keynote speaker. About 100 people attended. Community members learned more about the CASA program from staff, members of the Governing Board and volunteers. Executive Director Frances Allsup and CASA Board president Jeff Pierce announced the name change. Ocean Springs Fire Chief Derek McCoy, a board member, gave a personal testimony of his experience with the organization. Rev. Tommy Mitchell of Agricola Baptist gave the invocation and Richard Lucas, a board member of the United Way of Jackson and George Counties, emceed the event. Several United Way Board members attended.

In 1985 Jackson County became the site of the first CASA program in Mississippi when Judge Emily Baker recognized both the need for and the benefits of CASA volunteers in the Youth Court process. In April 2017, Mississippi legislators passed House Bill 1213 authorizing the Youth Court to utilize trained CASA advocates to work on behalf of children in abuse and neglect cases. Today the National CASA Association represents 950 local programs across the country served by more than 58,000 advocate volunteers devoted to child victims who need someone to change each child’s story by standing up for them in court. As of June 2022, seven counties in Mississippi had a CASA program. With the addition of George and Greene Counties in July, that number grew to nine counties. Under its new name, the same great services that have been provided for 37 years in Jackson County will be available to the children in foster care who have been victims of abuse or neglect in the tri-county area.

CASA uses trained community volunteers, sworn-in by the court, to represent the best interests of abused or neglected children active in the juvenile court system. The volunteers investigate the child’s circumstances, provide fact-based information, and make recommendations to the court while becoming a source of support for the child. CASA advocates investigate the circumstances, provide fact-based information and make recommendations to the court while becoming a source of support for the child. The advocate provides a voice for the child, ensuring the court, social services and legal counsel fulfill their obligations to the child in a timely fashion.

Anyone over age 21 who is interested in volunteering to be a voice for a child can get more information by calling 228-762-7370.

Report

Written by Nancy Jo Maples

Nancy Jo Maples is an award-winning journalist who has written about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. A former daily staff news reporter for the Mississippi Press, she currently writes for various media and teaches communication at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Reach her at [email protected]

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