CASA volunteers often only constant for kidsCourt Appointed Special Advocates are more than just volunteers. “They are friends.” That’s according to Jackie Horton, the First Circuit CASA executive director. Horton said an advocate is the only constant in the lives of children who are going through tough situations with their families.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
Court Appointed Special Advocates are more than just volunteers. “They are friends.”
That’s according to Jackie Horton, the First Circuit CASA executive director. Horton said an advocate is the only constant in the lives of children who are going through tough situations with their families.
On Wednesday, volunteers and students from Mitchell Christian Early Learning Center placed blue pinwheels in front of the CASA office. Each of the 42 pinwheels represents one child CASA has helped since Jan. 1.
That number is down from 53 last year, Horton said.
“Volunteers advocate for the child in court,” she said. “In order to do that, they have to be the one constant in that child’s life.”
Volunteers, who are trained to promote and protect the best interests of the children, meet separately with the children, parents and the parents’ attorneys, are present at family visitations at the safe house, go to court and write court reports.
Horton said the volunteers are asked to commit to serve up to 18 months, because court cases aren’t usually completed in less than 12 months.
Volunteers who work with babies rock and soothe them. Others who work with toddlers or school-age children start off reading books and playing until the children are comfortable enough to tell their stories, Horton said.
“Then they talk to the children and get the story,” Horton said. “All cases deal with abuse and neglect. A volunteer has to know a child and know the child’s story.”
Last year, the First Circuit CASA Program helped 75 children. Throughout its 11-year existence, the program has helped 350 children in Aurora, Davison, Douglas , Hanson, Hutchinson and McCook counties. Most of that work is done in Davison County, she said, because it has the largest population.
“The big thing is that volunteers are that one constant in a child’s life,” Horton said. “Attorneys may switch halfway through a court case or a child may be removed from the home and put in foster care two or three times.”
CASA will be holding its next volunteer training April 20, 21, 27 and 28. Volunteers first must pass a background check, then submit an application and three references. The volunteer must also write an essay about why they would be a good advocate.
The application process does not guarantee anyone a spot as a volunteer, Horton said. Once a person has completed all the paperwork, Horton and other employees meet with the volunteer for an interview.
“If we feel they’re a good fit, then the training will proceed,” she said. “Even if you’re in training, that doesn’t mean you’ll be a volunteer.”
Horton said if trainers find any “red flags” during training, the trainers have a week to inform a volunteer the position may not be right for them.
“We need credible volunteers,” she said. “This is more than a volunteer position, it’s a responsibility.”