Gina Clement grew up in a culture aimed at preventing child abuse.
âThe world of preventing child abuse – and working with children who had been abused – was something I grew up with,â Clement said. “To have a father who was a social worker and ran an adoption agency and counseled children who had been abused and taken from their homes.”
Her father never told her anything that she considered confidential, she continued, but he did talk about the clients and the challenges they faced.
âHe saw the children pushing and pulling. And they had no voice,â she said.
Her father was responsible for removing the children from the homes and making recommendations on where they should be placed.
He understood that children should have a voice over where they wanted to be. The kids needed someone to speak for them, Clement said.
In the late 1990s, after moving to Jefferson City, she wanted to educate people about child abuse and went to work for Prevent Child Abuse Missouri as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer.
ClÃ©ment then became administrative assistant at the local Habitat for Humanity. She then became the executive director of the association and spent six years there.
After that, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom, while her two boys were in school.
âWhen they were at school I could see things were going to be really calm,â said Clement. “So I became a substitute teacher in their school, as well as in one of the public schools.”
In this role, she saw a different side of what was going on at school with the children.
âI was doing that, besides being a CASA (Capital City Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer. That’s when it all fell into place,â she said.
In less than a year, she became the executive director of the organization.
CASA is a volunteer-driven organization made up of a network of people who believe that society has a fundamental obligation to ensure that children thrive and are treated with dignity and safety.
Its volunteers, appointed by the judges, defend abused and neglected children. They act as a voice for children and try to ensure that children do not get lost in overburdened legal and social service systems or languish in inappropriate groups or foster homes. Volunteers remain on their clients’ files until the children are placed in safe and permanent homes.
It serves around 130 children this month. That’s low for Cole County, which typically has between 140 and 160 children in remand each month, Clement said.
CASA has only 58 volunteers. Ideally, there should be one for each child.
The next class of 11 volunteers began training on Tuesday.
The work of CASA interested ClÃ©ment from the start.
âWhat the organization was trying to do, trying to serve as many people as possible, just interested me,â she said. “And it seemed to match my past experience and my interests.”
When the position opened, she applied. She has been the CEO for about five years now.
“I think it has value. The different information that volunteers can bring – there is so much that is asked of other professionals involved in a child protection case – sometimes without that additional information, decisions are taken, âClement said. “The judge makes all the final decisions. We just provide (the judge) with information to make the final decision.”