COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATES 5

Kim Ferraro and Court Appointed Special Advocates Give Voice to Struggling Families

Kim Ferraro takes her title of Aunt Kim very seriously. And if she occasionally has to be blunt, or forward, or sometimes even a little rude to help the little ones who call her Aunt Kim, well, that’s OK by her.

For the past four years, Ferraro of Lone Tree has been a Court Appointed Special Advocate — or CASA — for children going through abuse and neglect court proceedings. As a CASA volunteer working on individual cases, Ferraro speaks for her children in court and spends hours talking to parents, extended family, police officers, educators, foster families and other officials to help advise judges on the best permanent placement for children in the foster-care system.

“Sometimes you think, ‘I don’t want to rock the boat,’ but I’m here to be an advocate for these kids,” she said. There are roughly 300 volunteers like Ferraro working with the agency Advocates For Children CASA in the 18th Judicial District of Colorado, which represents Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. CASAs in these counties alone support about 800 children who have filings in the Dependency and Neglect Court. There are 16 CASA programs throughout the state.

Peg Rudden, executive director of Advocates 4 Children CASA in the 18th district, speaks for just five minutes and you get the sense of urgency and importance of what the volunteer advocates do. She said foster kids are marginalized in society, often thought of as troubled and hard-to-deal-with, and ignored.

Rudden’s a mother of six adult children, two of whom are disabled. She had a granddaughter die of brain cancer. She said even with these hardships, she and her family have always been blessed with support from their community. “Everybody wraps their arms around these kids. But for foster kids, there’s no one there but their CASA,” said Rudden, who started volunteering with CASA in 1981 through a Junior League project and has been passionate about the program and kids ever since. To become a CASA, a volunteer goes through 30 hours of training, is sworn in by a judge, and then is assigned a case, which typically lasts about 18 months.

Ferraro’s favorite part of her job is spending time getting to know her “munchkins,” as she calls them, by taking them to the park, or eating lunch with them at school — where they call her Aunt Kim to avoid having to retell the complicated story of their relationship to friends.

Once her own kids entered high school, she decided to use her free time to volunteer. The CASA program appealed to her because of her own experience growing up. “I didn’t have the brightest childhood,” she says, referring to a series of stepfathers. “It would have been extremely helpful for someone to be a voice for me and my siblings.”

Ferraro typically spends a couple hours a week as a CASA volunteer. And she’s proud that her efforts in her last case resulted in the children being reunited with their mother. Ferraro said she worked hard on mentoring the single mother, who has no other family and few positive role models in her life.”

People I talk to say ‘I could never do that.’ But you can,” Ferraro said. “Seeing those families be reunited, that’s why this organization is so important.”

And as executive director Rudden says, the couple hours a week as a CASA can encourage a child to finish high school or to reconnect with siblings after living in different foster homes and begin rebuilding family connections.

“It takes a strong heart, it takes some time,” said Rudden, “and it takes someone who knows that what they do will change one child’s life forever.”