Anybody can be a CASA volunteer, but it certainly helps to have a heart for children, a willingness to commit up to three hours a week over a period of two to three years, and the desire to make a difference in a child's life.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers are the voice for abused and neglected children who have been removed from their homes.
These children find themselves in the courts and child welfare systems through no fault of their own.
The social workers assigned to these children are often overburdened with similar cases. So, too, the guardian ad litem, the attorney who represents the child's interests in court.
These traumatized children need the sustained, personal attention which can only be provided by a CASA volunteer.
"Serving our most vulnerable population as a CASA volunteer is a powerful way for concerned citizens to become change agents in their communities — and the only way for a private citizen to be an appointed member of the court," explains Stacey Ryan, development director for CASA of the 7th Judicial District.
The CASA program was established in 1997 by a family court judge who found himself trying to address the needs of children and their safety without any input from the children. To give those children a voice in the process, he recruited 100 civilians he called Court Appointed Special Advocates and came up with a training curriculum, much of which is still in place. Under the auspices of the National CASA Association, the non-profit organization has expanded to every state in the U.S. In Colorado, CASA of the 7th Judicial District serves a six-county region that includes Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties.
CASA volunteers are carefully screened and trained before being sworn in as a member of the court. They are then assigned to a case — a single child or a sibling unit — and begin the process of building a trusting relationship.
Talking ... listening ... tossing a Frisbee back and forth ... getting to know the kids well is critical to developing a better understanding of how the children's needs can best be addressed. In addition to spending time with the children, individually and together, CASA volunteers facilitate collaboration between foster parents, biological parents and other parties involved in the case. They identify resources and services to meet each child's specific needs. Occasionally, they become investigators, examining the child's situation, history, environment and relationships. They keep track of whether the orders of the court are being carried out, and collaborate with child protective services when the plan for the child is not followed.
Their observations are incorporated into a monthly written report to the judge assigned to the case.
"Ultimately, CASA volunteers serve as another set of eyes and ears on a case," Ryan says. "It's not their role to pass judgment or make decisions about what should happen. But those written reports are a powerful tool for the judge, who wants to make the best decision for those children."
JoAnn Seymour, a CASA volunteer from Olathe, admits report writing can become a bit tedious, but she recognizes that's the only way the judge will know what's going on with each child. "The report is not filed away," she said. "The judge (in her case, Judge Schum) really listened to what I had to say."
That doesn't mean the cases always turn out the way CASA volunteers want them to. "You can do your best, advise and work with the kid, provide all the help and support you can, but the child may go right back into the same situation they came from. You have to be prepared for disappointment.
"In my case, however, I was fortunate. The judge, the caseworkers, the guardian ad litem ... we were all on the same page, all working toward making my child's life better, and I think we succeeded in doing that.
"As a CASA volunteer you're just one piece of the big picture, but you do have an opportunity to make a huge difference in a child's life."
Delta resident Virginia Bules not only has a heart for children, she says being a CASA is a true call from God.
CASA is not for everyone, she realizes. "It's hard work," she says. "It tears at your heartstrings, and it can be discouraging, but other than having my own grandkids, this has been the highlight of my many different opportunities to work with children."
Ryan agrees volunteering with CASA can be an "intensive, profound experience."
"It's much more than a typical volunter experience because we do ask volunteers, once they're appointed to a case, to remain committed for the duration of that case (an average of 14 months)."
At four years, Bules's commitment was lengthier than usual and she ended up doing a lot more driving than she anticipated. Still, she has moved on to a follow-up case, despite the demands of her personal life.
There is an option for individuals who are interested in the CASA program, but unable to make a commitment of up to two years. Volunteers with the Supervised Exchange and Parenting Time (SEPT) help provide a safe, neutral parenting time/exchange environment for families in conflict due to divorce, domestic violence, paternity or co-parenting.
At the beginning of the year, CASA of the 7th Judicial District will also implement the Fostering Futures Program, which pairs CASA volunteers with young adults transitioning out of foster care and into independent living.
Carlton Mason, the volunteer coordinator for Delta County, can provide more information about all of CASA's programs. He has been working diligently in the Delta County Combined Courts, laying the groundwork for CASA volunteers to begin making a direct impact on a child's future. There are many children in Delta County in need of CASA support, he says.
In addition to providing a volunteer for every abused and neglected child in Delta County, CASA has a long-range mission to help stop the cycle of child abuse and neglect. CASA volunteers become a role model for kids in turmoil, an example of how life can be.
"We work these kids through the system, but they don't need a system," Mason says. "They need a life ... they need hope. That's the one thing the system doesn't address. Only people can provide hope, and it starts with becoming a CASA volunteer."
If you're interested in being a stabilizing force for a child during a scary, uncertain time, call the Delta office at 874-7730 or visit www.CASA7jd.org. Training for incoming CASA volunteers is scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 16, in Delta, Gunnison and Montrose counties.blog comments powered by Disqus