YAKIMA, WA. -- When parents are unfit to care for their children, it's the kids who seem to suffer the most. The Yakima County Juvenile Court System has a program for these kids that are left behind when parents aren't around.
A child under the age of 12 doesn't belong in a courtroom but sometimes they find themselves there. And that's when Donna Bernard steps in.
"They're survivors," Donna said.
Donna is one of 34 unpaid volunteers who are part of the Court Administered Special Advocate program that deals with court dependent children. These are kids who have parents that are alcoholics, drug addicts or criminals, and they need help. Special advocates can do everything from home visits at foster care to attending sporting events to show support.
"And they know that you care," Donna said. "When you care I think it's obvious that you're not there for any reason than to help."
These special advocates are so important to these kids in every aspect and sometimes they even take the stand on their behalf.
Donna taught at West Valley High school for 34 years. After retiring, she decided to dedicate her time to teaching kids in the court system. Her court kids can be more of a challenge than your average high school student, but Donna says, the reward is worth it.
"I love it," Donna said. "I just am amazed at what some of the kids are capable of doing."
And court administrators commend her work.
"I think they save kids lives," Frank Murray, CASA Program Director said. "Every one of our volunteers has a big heart, has a mind for caring about children."
Donna can't help but care.
"Would you say that you almost kind of, in a motherly guardian type of way, love the kids that you get?" NBC Right now asked.
"Oh yes," Donna said. "That's just me, that's just me."
The court system is looking to expand it's advocate program this summer. If you're interested in becoming a volunteer, contact the Yakima County Juvenile Court.