CASA of Linn County added 29 volunteers in 2017 — nearly double that of 2016 — but, even so, 86 children in foster care in the county who do not have a Court Appointed Special Advocate.

Julie Gilman, executive director of CASA of Linn County, said Wednesday during the organization's annual fundraising luncheon that the need for advocates remains great.

The annual event was held at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center. 

“We are serving about 62 percent of children in foster homes in Linn County,” Gilman said. “I’ve been involved with CASA for eight years, seven months as executive director here. I started as an advocate.”

Gilman said volunteers devote a tremendous amount of time and must commit to at least two years’ service, which is the average time children spend in foster care.

Gilman said the recent state audit of the Department of Human Services painted a dark picture, but she said the local DHS staff members CASA works with are dedicated to the cause even though they are severely understaffed.

“I’m told they have about half the staff they need,” Gilman said. “What the audit really points out is the urgent need for CASA. The children need a voice and they find it through their CASA advocate.”

Gilman said the combination of substance abuse and generational poverty create a potent mixture for neglected children.

“We see children who are left unsupervised for hours or days and children who are left to supervise babies in homes with little or no food and no heat or electricity,” Gilman said. “Or, their parents are involved with substance abuse and have buyers coming in and out of the home.”

She said one young child had such a bad case of head lice that not only the child’s hair had to be shaved, but a portion of the child’s scalp had to be surgically removed.

Wednesday’s guest speaker was a young woman named Corrin, who attends the University of Oregon. Her last name is being withheld because she is still in the CASA program until her 21st birthday in a few months.

Corrin was 12 years old when her drug-addicted parents abandoned her and her 5-year-old sister in California.

“I had to take on the role of mothering my sister,” Corrin said. “I remember the day I told a school counselor we were living alone in a car.”

The girls lived in eight foster homes, settling into one when she was 14. Her sister, who is 6 ½ years younger, was adopted by the family.

“We moved from home to home,” Corrin said. “I learned a lot about people and about different religions. It was so frustrating, though, to move and have my questions met with smiles and half-hearted hugs.”

Corrin said she was angry with her parents for the bad choices they made and for leaving her and her sister. Her mother died of a drug overdose and her father is living on the streets.

But when she turned 13, Corrin was matched with her CASA advocate and their relationship has spanned eight years.

“At first, I didn’t understand why she would come to our house every Wednesday and bring treats,” Corrin said. “She annoyed me, but she persisted.”

Corrin said that although she will leave the CASA program on her birthday, she and her advocate will remain friends.

Corrin said that as difficult as her childhood was, losing her best friend in a car accident while coming back from a trip to California during spring break of her freshman year, has been the most crushing event in her life.

“I have giant grief about losing my friend,” she said.

Corrin suffered numerous injuries and underwent three brain surgeries. She was in a medically induced coma for eight days.

“I had to go to rehabilitation for 30 days and had to learn how to walk again,” she said. “My CASA advocate visited every single day.”

Corrin said her goal in life is to become an internationally based journalist.

“I can speak German and I like to travel,” she said.

She retains contact with her sister, but not with half-brother from her mother’s previous marriage, nor with numerous cousins from her father’s side of the family who live in Florida.

“I’ve been fortunate to have had the same judge for years,” Corrin said. “That’s unusual. When you are young, often people don’t take you seriously, but actually, you do have insight and need to talk.”

Corrin said she had questions about finances, the number of foster homes she had been placed in and about always having to switch schools.

“The good news is that I always felt like I was being taken care of and that finally, I was being heard,” she said.

Foster care is often blamed when teens act out, Corrin said, but in fact, it is often just part of growing up.

“We just want to feel like a normal teen,” Corrin said. “Don’t just assume we’re acting out because we’re in the foster care system.”

Wednesday’s program was sponsored by Re/Max Integrity, Greg and Linda Anable, Michael Bernard of Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial, Trammell Orthodontics, Walt Peble, Cheslah Barkdoll and Xtreme Grafx, plus numerous table sponsors.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.