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CASA Seeks Volunteers To Be Local Advocates

By Staff | Sep 1, 2010

Nationally, there are over three million reports of child abuse made every year. In West Virginia, a child is abused and neglected every hour. Locally, during 2009 in Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, and Tyler counties combined: 183 children were removed from their home because of abuse. All of these children deserve a voice that stands up for them in court. That voice is a Court-Appointed Special Advocate. Wetzel County children are in great need of CASA volunteers to help place them in the best care available.

Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a national program where trained, court-appointed volunteers represent the best interest of an abused or neglected child for whom a placement is being determined by the court. There are a total of 900 organizations in the United States. Every day in West Virginia, CASA volunteers are making a difference in the lives of children. For many of them, a CASA volunteer is the first person in their life they can count on. CASA for Children, Inc., works for kids, simply because they are caring people willing to offer unconditional support.

CASA for Children, Inc., is the only volunteer organization that empowers everyday citizens as officers of the court. In an overburdened social welfare system, abused and neglected children often slip through the cracks. CASA volunteers change that. Judges, attorneys, child welfare workers, and parents overwhelmingly report that volunteers make a difference with the children they serve.

Appointed by Judges, CASA volunteers typically handle just one case at a time-and commit to staying on that case until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. While others may come and go, CASA volunteers provide that one constant children need in order to thrive. A CASA volunteer gathers facts and submits a report to the judge with recommendations that are in the best interest of the child and provides other information to help the court make a sound decision about the child’s future.

According to the US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, children with a CASA volunteer are substantially less likely to spend time in a long-term foster care. Also, when a CASA volunteer was involved, both children and their parents were ordered by the courts to receive more services. And cases involving a CASA volunteer are more likely to be “permanently closed” (i.e., the children are less likely to reenter the child welfare system) than cases where a CASA volunteer is not involved.

Becoming a CASA volunteer doesn’t require a degree in law or social work. CASA for Children, Inc. is looking for people with a desire to help abused children. Being a CASA volunteer does not require special education or background, simply the desire to help abused and neglected children find safe, permanent homes. The first steps are passing a background check and participating in a 30-hour training course. The training is progressive and is broken down into weekly sessions.

After successfully completing the course, the volunteer is assigned his or her first case. CASA for Children, Inc., ensures volunteers have no prior relationship with a case family. “Abuse happens in every social class, everywhere,” notes Amy Halicky of CASA for Children, Inc. “You don’t realize how many abused and neglected children there are in this area.” A volunteer’s average time commitment to a case is approximately 10 hours per month. Volunteers are asked to stay with the case until it is closed, a year-and-a-half on average.

Everyone has a gift they can share to make the difference for an abused or neglected child. Volunteer or make a contribution. Be the voice that represents an abused or neglected child in court and help a judge make the best decision about a child’s future. There are many children on the waiting list for a volunteer right now. Volunteers often have full time jobs and the majority are female. CASA for Children, Inc., greatly needs volunteers, especially males. Volunteers range in age from 21-80 years old. The next course starts Sept. 9 at 5 p.m. and will be held once a week on Thursday and/or Saturday for seven weeks.

Local CASA programs operate using private funding to train and recruit volunteers. Give a private donation or offer to host a fundraiser for a local CASA program.

To help with volunteer recruitment, promotional materials are available to share in the workplace or community. Refer people interested in volunteering to their local program.

CASA for Children, Inc. is located at 258 Jefferson Avenue in Moundsville. Applications, training schedules, and more information can be obtained by calling 304-810-0952. Visit www.wvcasa.org, or e-mail executivedirector@wvcasaforchildren.com for additional details.