Gymnast Simone Biles Vaulted Through Foster Care to Success

Have you been keeping up with upcoming Olympics? Gymnastics were always my favorite and I recently found out that one of the girls competing, Simone Biles, entered foster care at an early age. She is 4’9” 19-year-old who is getting the attention of many fans with her bright smile and incredible gymnastics talent. Take a look at her performance recently as she took 1stplace (for the 4th time!) at the P&G Gymnastics Championships.

Simone and her siblings were adopted by their maternal grandparents after entering foster care. Ron and Nellie Biles are modest when speaking of their role in helping their children excel. But Simone attributes her success to the wonderful parents who have supported her throughout her life. “My parents make sure we have everything we need so that we compete to the best of our ability,” she told People Magazine. Simone was just six years old at the time when she was first enrolled in a gymnastic class. Her dedication to the sport led Simone to never miss a practice. Even if she fell ill, Simone pushed herself on attending. It’s this tenacity and love for the sport that has helped create a master gymnast. Clearly, Simone loves what she does. She is such an inspiration to not only gymnast, but to little girls and children in foster care.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties is an organization of volunteer advocates who stand up on behalf of abused and neglected children. Over 1,000 abused and neglected children in our three counties are currently waiting on the critical voice of a volunteer advocate.

What is a CASA volunteer? A CASA volunteer is an officer of the court. A judge appoints a special advocate, as mandated in SDCL 26-8A-20, to represent the best interest of an abused or neglected child in court proceedings.

What does a CASA volunteer do? A trained CASA volunteer gathers information for the court. He or she recommends to the judge what the child needs to be safe and what is in the child’s best interest in securing a permanent home. A CASA volunteer advocates for a speedy decision that considers a child’s sense of time.

Each year, hundreds of children in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties are removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. These children have experienced terrible trauma, and their lives are turned upside down. Child Protective Services takes legal responsibility for them, and may place them in a foster home or other facility. Due to too few foster homes, siblings are often split up into different places. Children are rarely able to stay in their own schools, daycares, or communities. Everything they have known is gone. Through no fault of their own, these abused children have become a part of an overburdened child welfare system. They deserve a voice in the courtroom. They need a CASA volunteer!

Why does a child need both a CASA volunteer and an attorney?
A CASA volunteer is able to spend as much time as it takes to gather information about the child and the child’s family. A CASA volunteer serves at the request of a judge and provides a report on the best placement for a child. If a court had to pay an attorney to do this job, it would be too costly. A child’s attorney provides legal representation. The CASA volunteer and the child’s attorney can work as a team to represent the best interest of the child.

CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties has 100 active volunteers who come from all walks of life. They span all age ranges. Some are just beginning in the workforce, and others are retired. Over half our volunteers work full-time and have families. Some have backgrounds in the criminal justice system, social work, or child welfare. Other volunteers have no such experience at all.

Why does a child need a CASA volunteer?
When the court is making decisions that will affect a child’s future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson—an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case are concerned about the child, they also have other interests. The CASA volunteer is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interest of the child. CASA volunteers are assigned one case at a time, one CASA volunteer to one case, to provide a “voice in court”. A CASA volunteer can give his or her full individual attention to a case.

An abused or neglected child has come from a world of chaos and instability. For the child, there is fear; fear of being hurt; fear of being alone and fear about the future. For children who are in out of home placements, there can be many changes in schools and homes before a decision is made on where the child should live. A CASA volunteer can be the sole source of stability and comfort to fill an enormous void in the child’s life. A CASA volunteer is a trusted, dependable adult who doesn’t go away and who gives the child hope for a better future.

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