NORFOLK -- The chief judge of the Norfolk Juvenile Court system wants more people to volunteer to represent at-risk youth in court.
It's all part of a nationwide program called Court Appointed Special Advocates. Empowered directly by the courts, citizen-volunteers offer judges the critical information they need to ensure every child's voice is heard.
Many of the children who come through the court system are abused, neglected or caught in ugly custody battles.
"It has been proven that children who have CASAs get out of the system and into foster homes faster. They are extra eyes that we wouldn't have," said Hon. Bill Williams.
Judge Williams says social workers are overburdened with cases and can't keep a close eye on a child through the judicial process, which can create a huge injustice for the child.
Ronda Baucom, the owner of a Norfolk ceramic paint shop, volunteers as a CASA. She has been the voice for five girls from ages 5 to 16.
Baucom says she's usually assigned a child the moment they enter the system. She helps explain the court process while getting to know each of her children on a personal level. Sometimes she's there to simply text with them to help them feel secure.
"I take the role of an aunt or a favorite teacher," said Baucom.
While her role is to be there for guidance and support, she admits: it takes a village to help a child.
"It is tragic and terrifying. We need people to step in and be a voice for these children in the courts. I think a lot of times parents just need to be educated and taught how to parent and not everyone is born knowing how to do that," said Baucom.