CASA Volunteers Needed to Support Youth in Foster Care or CPS Custody

6/7/2013

FLORENCE – Imagine a child being roused in the middle of the night and escorted out of his home by a police officer. The child, abused by his parents, is being taken away for his own safety.
 
The emotions the child experiences range from afraid and angry while being led away from his home. An agent from Child Protective Services is on hand to bring the child to a foster home where they are placed until the situation is able to be resolved.
 
This is type situation is unfortunately played out numerous times across the United States.
 
Fortunately, there are people available to help that child in need.
 
The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a volunteer group of citizens from all walks of life who represent the best interests of the child.
 
“We are a government program so we do not fundraise, we are truly a non-profit organization,” said Pam Burke, Pinal County’s CASA Coordinator. “Our volunteers are specially trained, fingerprinted, interviewed, references are checked and they are given a polygraph. After that, they are given 30 hours of training and then they can be classified as a CASA volunteer.”
 
Once the volunteers pass those hurdles, they partner with a CASA veteran volunteer to be shown how to represent the best interests of the child.
 
“We just don’t throw them out there,” Burke said. “By the time we train the new volunteer, they will know exactly what to do.”
 
The CASA volunteer becomes the “go-to” person for a child when it comes to the courtroom. The volunteer will spend hours with their assigned child to learn more about them as an individual.
 
“Inside the courtroom, you will see the judge, the case manager and the child’s attorney. But the CASA volunteer will know the child and his wishes better than anyone else,” Burke said. “A CASA volunteer will give detailed information to the judge who will then decide what is best for the child based on three criteria – placement, services and visitation.
 
Burke expands on those criteria.
 
“The judge will ask about the current placement of that child and whether it is with a relative or foster home. The judge will ask ‘does this fit the best interest of the child?’ Services – is the child getting all the services they need to be a success. And lastly, visitation – is the child able to visit with their parents and siblings? Does this work out for the child?”
 
The need for CASA volunteers is in high demand as the summer begins. Currently there are more children in the system than volunteers.
 
“We have around 60 volunteers right now,” Burke said. “We serve 90 to 100 children. But we have around 600 children who are currently in care as part of the dependency system. Many times these kids were victims of crime such as abuse, neglect or abandonment. The need for volunteers is great right now.”
 
To volunteer, a person must be at least 21 years of age. Special skills are not required. All that is needed is some time and a desire to help children as they navigate their way through the justice system.
 
“We need good, committed people,” said Greg Clark, Pinal County’s other CASA Coordinator who works with the CASA volunteers. “There are people from all walks of life who volunteer. We have retirees, teachers, prison employees and people who work a nine-to-five shift. All we need is for the person to have the best interest of the child at heart.”
 
“We work around the volunteer’s schedules,” Burke added. “As a CASA volunteer, you are not just going to court to represent the child, we need that person to spend time with that child so they get to know them. People seem to think they will be in court all the time. But really, a volunteer may be in court as frequently as once every three months or as infrequently as once every six months.”
 
Pam Burke and Greg Clark are available to answer questions about becoming a CASA volunteer by calling (520) 866-7076 or on the CASA website at www.CASAofpinalcounty.org.

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Created at 6/7/2013 2:05 PM  by System Account 
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