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Court-appointed advocates give Augusta foster children a voice

Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 6:10 PM
Last updated Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 1:37 AM
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Vickie Sheffield has not had to move often in her life, relocating only when she came to Augusta seven years ago with her husband and five adopted children in search of better jobs, nicer schools and a home closer to family.

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Vickie Sheffield (from left), and Radisha Brown-Seabrook wait to get sworn in as Court Appointed Special Advocates.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Vickie Sheffield (from left), and Radisha Brown-Seabrook wait to get sworn in as Court Appointed Special Advocates.

As a former foster mother in her hometown of Dublin, Ga., she sometimes provided a child’s sixth or seventh temporary home, however.

For 12 years, as many as 90 children walked through her door, many mentally and physically abused by mothers or fathers who routinely failed drug tests or altogether abandoned them or refused to take parenting classes or counseling services.

“Some of them tried – they really did – but some of them didn’t care one way or the other, and in the end just kind of flubbed it,” Sheffield said. “You can’t tell me that’s good for any person, much less a child.”

Sheffield, now a 51-year-old grandmother, is one of seven volunteers whom Richmond County Juvenile Court Judge Jennifer McKinzie swore in last week as Augusta’s newest class of court appointed special advocates.

The Court Appointed Special Advocate program, which started nationwide in January 1990, provides trained volunteers to bring individual attention, urgency and support to abused and neglected children in the foster care system, both in and out of the courtroom.

The volunteers collect independent information for an overburdened court system to offer recommendations on how to increase the juvenile justice system’s capacity by moving children from temporary foster homes to permanent families.

Augusta’s advocate program is one of 300 around the country. Last year, it served 281 foster care children as the only state- and nationally affiliated program of its kind in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties.

Today, 41 active volunteers provide 164 children an “objective advocate and adult voice, as they journey through the often insensitive court systems while awaiting decisions about where, and with whom, they may be living, either temporarily or permanently,” said the program director, Dawn Charleston-Green.

“I absolutely love it – I love the people,” said Sheffield, who heard of the program through her days in Dublin. “Everyone’s basic concern is the child.”

In preparing for the program, Sheffield and her fellow volunteers received more than 40 hours of specialized training to learn the skills necessary to advocate for children in court proceedings and assist in determining temporary and permanent placement for youths who have been deemed “deprived” by the juvenile justice system, Charleston-Green said.

Applicants must undergo state and federal criminal background checks, log hours in the court system and complete a volunteer manual that introduces them to juvenile laws and the different cultures, backgrounds and relationships they may face with children in the program.

“It’s been intensive, interesting, surprising, and at times, shocking,” newly trained volunteer Radisha Brown-Seabrook said of the training process. “But overall, it’s been encouraging to learn how you can help a child find some consistency in their life.”

Brown-Seabrook, 35, has a master’s degree from the University of South Carolina and is a licensed social worker with the state of Georgia.

She has never worked exclusively with children; however, she said a hearing she witnessed last month in Richmond County Juvenile Court made her realize the advocacy program was a natural fit for her.

Brown-Seabrook, who was referred to the program by a friend, described the case as “heart-wrenching.”

A young girl had to stand in front of a judge while the child’s mother said she no longer had the energy or drive to be a parent and wanted to take some time to focus on rebuilding her life after a teenage pregnancy.

“You could see the pain in the child’s face and in the judge’s face, but throughout the process, her court-appointed advocate held her hand, hugged her and continued to say, ‘It’s going to be OK. We are going to work through this. This is not about you,’” Brown-Seabrook said. “That CASA worker was the girl’s strength. It blew me away.”

Charleston-Green said court-appointed advocates stay involved with each child until their case is closed, when the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. She said that for many abused children, their volunteer will be the one consistent adult presence – the one adult who is focused on their needs – possibly for years.

Adeline “Tracey” Washington, 68, is a retired colonel of the Army Nurse Corps and is going into her second year. She has three cases, one of which includes three children, ages 3 to 8.

As part of her advocacy, Washington met with each of her child’s teachers to describe their home situation and find ways to keep the youths focused on their school work.

Washington got the children enrolled in track and field, an extracurricular activity that helped the siblings become more fit and outgoing.

“It was just refreshing to get into a program where I could give back to the community,” said Washington, who adopted her son, now 23, from an abusive household and has worked in military youth groups.

Sheffield said she wishes more people would get involved in the program. Those interested can call (706) 737-4631 or visit for more information.

“If you truly love children and really want to help them, this is one way to do that,” Sheffield said. “Children need a voice, and with CASA, their wishes and concerns will be known.”

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gwenbo 10/31/13 - 10:10 am
Foster Care or Identity Theft?

What happens to kids' IDs after they enter Foster Care? Who knows? How many moms are reported by rapists and child molesters so that they can get out of charges? How many children were taken because someone was jealous of the couple? How many kids are sexually abused in the churches where their foster parents go? How many doctors of these kids have been murdered on bikes or just disappeared to hide human trafficking abuse by the foster parents? How many of these kids could have just stayed home and saved us the price of their funerals? How many social workers took gossip as fact? How many rapists relatives work for social services and spend their career hiding their family member's sexual transgressions? How many kids are being used as sexual puppy mills to increase cult religions like 7th Day Adventists or Jehovah's Witnesses (no indictment, just example)? How many foster kids have made it to 35 in the Aiken or Augusta area? How many foster kids are taken so that some crook can use their ID to obtain work and public access? For that fact, how many IDs have been sold to terrorists? Are your advocates aware of what a normal family truly is, or are they victims who have been trained but still have no idea that a child pregnant under age 16 has been molested or raped? If it has not been reported, it is criminal child neglect on the part of the parent or foster parent? Have they been and has anyone checked their true qualifications for the job?

InChristLove 10/31/13 - 12:55 pm
It appears that gwenbo may

It appears that gwenbo may have had a run in with the Foster Care system and it doesn't appear to be a good experience.

Gwen, I am not so niave that I wouldn't acknowledge that it is possible some of these horrific situations could occurr within the Foster Care system but I would pray they are few and far between. I suspect the Foster Care system and their Advocates do an abundance of goodness for these abused and hurt children that the good far outweights the bad that occurrs within our decrepit society.

FormerAugustaResident 10/31/13 - 02:19 pm
All of the abuse didn't start....

....when the child entered "the system", it is what got them there. There are many, many imperfections in the system as it is. Even though no longer in Augusta, I've been involved in CASA over 8 years. I can tell you that I have met many, many very dedicated but grossly overworked case workers and other social workers who do everything in their power to help these kids. Quite often the CASA volunteer is the only person (INCLUDING family members) who is a constant in these kids lives from start to finish as case managers often change while the child is in state care.

Sorry, Gwen, but I believe your indictment is misdirected.

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