Amid the breakdown of the family, need for children's advocates increases


Cindy Evers speaks at a candlelight vigil for Domestic Violence Awareness Month last October. The event was held by Ruth's Cottage and The Patticake House. TIFTON GAZETTE/Special

TIFTON — Cindy Evers sees the need every day. In fact, she's watched it grow in the last 18 years from important to crucial.

In 2000 Evers and her husband, Fred, moved from Louisiana to Northside Baptist Church here, where Fred answered a call to serve as pastor. At the time Cindy had been ruminating on a call of her own as she'd observed the dearth of court-appointed special advocates (CASA) for children.

That stayed with her as she settled into South Georgia. Northside's footprint, she determined, needed to go beyond its walls.

"I'd been intrigued with the CASA program in Louisiana but not involved," she told The Index. "I wanted to become involved in social service issues in the community."

So, Evers met with CASA representatives from Atlanta and judges to set up a CASA program in Tift County. In June 2000 grant money made it a reality in their judicial circuit.

A constant face

When a child goes into foster care, their world tilts at a dangerous angle where nothing seems solid. During the evaluation process consistency becomes a difficult standard to maintain. CASA volunteers exist to provide that firm foundation and be a voice for children, speaking up for their best interests.

Currently, 46 affiliate programs across the state work to recruit and train some 2,400 CASA volunteers. Those adults, in turn, advocate for the estimated 20,000 children in foster care.

In her career, Evers counts around 100 children with whom she's worked as a CASA volunteer.

"You get to know the children and stay on that case until there's some kind of permanency," she pointed out. "You are the constant face while the child is under the care of the state and build a relationship and pray for them. "

Members at Northside have been instrumental in not only supporting her work, but getting involved as foster parents as well as adopting through the foster care system.

"My church has been phenomenal," testified Evers, also a board member for the Georgia Baptist Children's Home. Recently, for example, a three-year-old child required a volunteer through the Department of Family and Child Services to stay with him for two weeks until he could be placed in foster care.

Northside members stepped up, Evers said, collecting the $2,000 for the DFCS worker to stay and provide continuity for the child.

Need for more volunteers, more training

Coastal Plains CASA Executive Director Kristin Morrison oversees 20-25 CASA volunteers right now. But, she's looking for more, said Evers. Like the rest of the country, Tift County and South Georgia have suffered the effects of addiction tearing families apart.

"It's gotten so much worse since I started. Poverty isn't as much a problem as substance abuse." she asserted. "If you took that out of the scenario most children could go home today. Opioids, meth, alcoholism, cocaine – they're all the main part of the problem."

The reality, she added, points to a great need for Georgia Baptists to get involved. Training must be part of that effort, though. On April 13 Alliance for Children – an advocacy group consisting of Ruth's Cottage, a domestic violence shelter; The Patticake House, a child advocacy center; Coastal Plain CASA; and Northside Baptist Church – will host a training summit at Northside.

To Ever's knowledge, this is the first time a Georgia Baptist church has hosted such a training regarding child maltreatment. Instructors will include those with law enforcement, mental health, courts, DFCS, and medical backgrounds.

Hands in the pit

"I feel very strongly," she said, "that we as believers have the key to climbing out of these pits [of substance abuse and child maltreatment]. Sometimes we have to roll up our sleeves and get our hands in the pit to pull people out. That's hard. It's not pretty."

To her, the effort for it all is personal in a spiritual sense.

"This is my 'entrusted.' It's what God has called me to do. I cannot drop the ball. I must always be on my guard and on call.

"It's important that I do the best job possible in every situation, no matter if I'm tired or discouraged. I must represent Christ well."

advocacy, CASA, child abuse, domestic abuse, family, government, Northside Baptist Church Tifton, Tift County