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a heart for children
Story by Susan O'Connor, Photo by Dero Sanford

Farah Spanier has a heart for children. As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), she touches the lives of many.

As officers of the court, CASA volunteers advocate for abused and neglected children who are caught up in the legal system because they cannot safely live at home. Sadly, approximately 780,000 children in the U.S. live in this predicament.

The volunteers make sure the children don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system, and work to make sure that the group or foster home where they are placed is appropriate. Often, each child’s CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence in his or her life.

“DHS (Department of Human Services) is so busy, with so many cases, that little things get missed, even though they try their best,” Spanier said. “We are given a file on each child and told, ‘Find out everything you can about this situation. Find out if what is on the surface is actually what is going on.’ All you have to do is dig a little bit. It is the legwork that DHS is too busy to deal with. It is filling in the gaps.”

Spanier was commended recently by Judge Cindy Thyer for her thorough investigative work, as well as her excellent case reports.

“We are the eyes and ears for the judge for the kids’ sake,” she said. “These kids are shuffled so much between foster homes. CASA has an all-access pass. We follow the children from home to home.”

A native of Alexandria, La., Spanier is a single mother of 10-year-old Kayla, and is also a full-time student at Arkansas State University. In addition to her volunteer work, she tutors ASU athletes. She will graduate in May with two bachelor of arts degrees, criminology and sociology. She is interested in a career in forensic interviewing, but her ultimate goal is to become a private investigator.

“I am the most curious person I know. That’s my thing,” she said with a bright smile. “I credit my brother and my insatiable curiosity with influencing my decision to major in criminology and sociology. However, it wasn’t until I attended an Arkansas State CASA conference in Little Rock that I decided to focus my career on forensic interviewing. I had never heard about Child Advocacy Centers, so I was impressed to learn that they are child-friendly places for children of abuse to tell their stories. I realized right away that this was another opportunity for me to help alleviate some of the horrors associated with their situation. Coincidentally, our community has been blessed recently with the opening of the Northeast Arkansas Children’s Advocacy Center.”
Spanier said she hopes to be a source of inspiration for the children she encounters.

“If I can be that person to motivate and inspire a child, that is what I hope for. Maybe one day, one of those kids will remember and say, ‘Miss Farah did this for me, and I want to someday be like her.’”

What is most difficult about your work as a CASA volunteer, and what is most rewarding? It is difficult to imagine that not all children have loving, safe and stable homes. The most difficult part, for me, is meeting so many wonderful children who have to deal with such horrible situations. On the other hand, I find great contentment from being a consistent presence in these children’s lives until they are placed in permanent loving homes. Emotions run high whether these children are being reunited with parents after the parents have developed skills required to care for them, or whether they are adopted by a loving family.

What are some of the most important life lessons you’ve learned through your volunteerism? I have learned to view life through the eyes of a child, and that even the smallest efforts make a difference. CASA has taught me to appreciate the little joys in life, and to hold those I love a little closer. I have been very blessed in life, and CASA helps me to pass on some of those blessings.

Is there a shortage of CASA volunteers in this area? Absolutely! Our local CASA offices are always looking for new volunteers. Children move in and out of the system at a high rate every day, therefore we must have volunteers ready to take cases when a judge feels one should be assigned. For anyone interested in volunteering, call our volunteer recruiter, Barbara, at 870-935-1099.

How do you let go of all the heartache you encounter among the children? I am not, personally, ever able to completely let go. Experiencing joy with the children helps. It is difficult to express how it feels to see a child smile when the nightmare is over and they are headed to a loving, safe, permanent home where they will begin to heal.

What is your dream getaway? Oh, how I love to travel! My dream is to return to Europe with my daughter and tour Italy, specifically the region of Tuscany. I believe the destination is not as important as my traveling companions. I have great family and friends that make trips to even the most mundane places tons of fun!