County in need of child advocates | RecordCourier.com

County in need of child advocates

by Caryn Haller
challer@recordcourier.com

Children who are removed from their home due to domestic violence or neglect need someone to stand up for them and be their voice. Volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates are just that.

Due to an increase in court cases involving children, the need for volunteers has increased as well.

“A lot of people feel they’re not competent to do it. The only thing we ask is that a volunteer have a love for children and desire to help children that are going through crisis,” CASA Coordinator Linda Cuddy said. “We advocate primarily for abused and neglected children. We also get involved in custody issues which at many times can be harder than being physically abused because it’s emotional abuse. The child is always our priority.”

Being a child advocate requires about 15 hours a month, with a majority of that time being used during the initial investigation.

Once a CASA receives a case, they are responsible for doing an in depth investigation into the child’s life. They interview everybody involved with the child from family members to coaches to teachers. They look into any family history of criminal activity, police reports or drug abuse and compile that information into a file the court uses to rule in the best interest of the child.

“This is information the court might not be privy to,” Cuddy said. “At least the court has a good solid picture of what’s going on in the family. We have to be objective. We present honest information in a factual manner.”

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Working closely with the Division of Child and Family Services, the CASA’s investigation is independent from the one conducted by the state.

“A CASA will have one case, and a social worker will have 30 or 40 cases,” Cuddy said. “We can do a more thorough investigation than they have time to do.”

After the initial investigation is complete CASAs go to every hearing with the child, visit with them frequently during the case and conduct family team meetings with the state and the parents.

“Our first goal is to try and safely put the child back in the home, but it doesn’t always work that way,” Cuddy said. “We try to help them by assuring they are in a safe place.”

Two informational meetings about the CASA program are 2 p.m. Tuesday and 4 p.m. Wednesday in the District 2 courtroom at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center in Minden.

These meetings will discuss what the program is about, what’s expected of a CASA, what training is involved and provide an opportunity to meet veteran CASAs.

CASA training requires 30 hours spread out over four weeks. Volunteers learn about domestic violence, child sexual abuse, foster care, the legal system and they visit a courtroom. They are also taught how to conduct a home visit, write reports and testify in court.

“It’s a lot to learn, but one of the things we hear about is how glad people are to learn about all the programs available in this little town,” Cuddy said.

Cuddy worked in retirement homes for 20 years before becoming a CASA in 1998.

Since then she has advocated for at least 50 children.

“When I became a CASA I realized these children are our future. There are children in tragic situations and we can help better these children’s lives,” she said. “We develop a rapport with the children. They can be painfully honest with somebody who they feel are here just for them. It’s amazing to me how trusting they can be. Some of these children have nobody to talk to. We’re not counselors, we just listen to them.”

For more information about the CASA program, call 782-6247 or visit http://www.casaforchildren.org.

DETAILS

What: Informational meetings about becoming a CASA volunteer

When: 2 p.m. Tuesday and 4 p.m. Wednesday

Where: District 2 courtroom at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, Minden

Info: 782-6247 or http://www.casaforchildren.org