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CASA volunteer finds his work rewarding

by Merrie Leininger

During his own divorce almost three years ago now, Bob Stiehler couldn’t help but notice the individuals called CASAs who helped his children get through the difficult custody battle.

“Their investigation gave the judge a lot of information they wouldn’t have known was the truth just because I said it in court,” he said.

Soon after, Stiehler signed up for the training and became a Court Appointed Special Advocate himself. A CASA is a person who works as a liaison for the judge. CASAs spend time with families who are going through custody battles or have criminal charges pending. The CASA then advises the judge what they think is the best option for the children.

“It’s rewarding when you can take a child that’s an infant and, through investigation, remove that child from a possible harmful situation and also help the parents get the help they need so they can be back in that child’s life,” he said.

He said a big part of a CASA’s job is not only to help the child, but to help parents improve their situations through parenting classes, counseling and financial management classes.

“The best thing is common sense. One of the things you have to remember is you can’t impose your values and beliefs on another family. They may not be doing things your way, but the child must be taken care of in an appropriate way,” Stiehler said.

In one case he worked on, the mother just needed some help getting on her feet so she could take care of her child. She now has a good job and both mom and child are doing well, he said.

n Investigation. He said the most challenging part of the job for him is when he first starts on a case and has to visit everyone involved, from teachers to parents and other family members and neighbors.

Stiehler said those people are usually very helpful.

“Once they find out you are there for the child, everyone wants to help,” he said. “If there is one thing nobody wants to talk about, somebody will usually spill the beans.”

The first part of the case takes a lot of time, about 20 to 40 hours a month. Then after the initial interviews are over, it slows down.

“When you first start on a case, it is very intensive. You have to do the investigation and write a report and go to hearings. After that it is mostly monitoring the situation and it is at a level pace for a while,” he said. “It’s only 4 to 8 hours a month and who can’t spare that? That’s nothing.”

He said he tries not to spend too much time on a case, however, so that it takes away from time with his three kids.

However, he said, teaching them by example to help other people is a lesson he can’t afford not to give them.

n Best interest. Although he said he runs into some parents who take their anger out on him, he tries to always remember why he is there.

“The child’s best interest is always observed. You are not there for mom, you are not there for dad. They have lawyers and the kid is in the middle, and in many cases, they may have something to say. We are the third voice for that child,” Stiehler said.

The CASA program does a lot to help the volunteers, Stiehler said. From the very beginning they are put through a rigorous 40-hour training program. They are taught what to look for in a healthy home and what the signs are of a negative environment.

There are also on-going parenting classes and monthly sessions with Director Jeanean Clement. Stiehler said Clement is always there for the CASAs if they need help working through a tough case or writing a report for the judges.

Stiehler laughed when he talked about being one of only two male CASAs in Douglas County, but he said it was a shame men are too intimidated to volunteer.

“I’ve heard all the excuses. They’re all lame,” he said. “You know these kids are out there and they need help. It is one of the few organizations where you get face-to-face with a kid and actually help him. That’s the difference. You are helping a specific child that otherwise, you don’t know what would happen to them.”

Stiehler was very passionate about the job.

“All you have to do is want to help a child. Anybody can do this. Any point of view is valuable as far as interpreting these cases,” he said.

n Training. Anyone who is interesting in getting more information about the program or about training to become a CASA can call Douglas County Coordinator Jenean Clement at 782-6247.

A training session is planned to start Feb. 1. To take part in the training, participants need to sign up with Clement no later than Jan. 25.

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