There are almost 1,000 children living in foster care in Atlantic and Cape May Counties. CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, currently has about 200 volunteers to represent 350 of them, making sure they get the services and help they need during foster care, and as a permanent placement.

"Because of the shortage of volunteers, we usually get only the most complex cases right now," said Karen DeRosa, director of comm-unity development for CASA for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. "But we would like every child to have an advocate."

The CASAs are appointed by a judge and help supplement the work of case workers. The volunteers can visit the foster home, the biological parents or even the child's school.

"I worked with a school system for a child who was having problems," said Carole Phillips, of Egg Harbor Township, who has been a volunteer for about three years. She originally thought about becoming a foster parent, but decided that might be more than she could handle.

"I always had a heart for helping children," she said. "This is something I can do."

Husband and wife, Lauren Uher and Daryl Shall, of Ventnor, became volunteers after retirement. They typically work together with families that have multiple children in foster care and are often placed with different foster families.

"We had been looking to do something that really had meaning," said Shall. "There is so much enthusiasm and commitment for the mission."

Uher said volunteers should love children, be good at asking questions and communicating to the court. Some cases take more time than others, and volunteers do make an emotional investment in the child's well-being.

She said because they are impartial, and are assigned to do what is best for the child they represent, judges respect their recommendations.

"Our mission is the child," Shall said. "You read their files and there are so many horrible things, families that just can't function. Then you go meet the kids and they are so sweet and you just have to help them."

While many volunteers are retired, Lisa Weiss, of Somers Point, said she works and still finds time to serve. She said case workers juggle so many cases that they are happy to have the CASA volunteers help out. She typically spends about 12 to 15 hours per month on her case.

"We are just one more resource to make sure the children get safe homes," Uher said.

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