CASA El Dorado: Standing up for children
Special to the Tribune
Thanks to Judge David Soukup, a very special juvenile court judge in Seattle in 1977, children around the country have been helped through some very difficult times. Judge Soukup founded the first CASA program in 1977 and the national CASA association now has a network of 1,055 program offices around the country. CASA programs have helped more than two million abused children since the first program in 1977.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates and is a program of volunteers, not lawyers or social workers, just ordinary people advocating for abused and neglected children.
“What we see when a child is removed from a family, there is a lawyer for the county or state and a lawyer for the parents or family but no one to represent the child,” said Elbridge Stuart, a member of the Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation Board of Directors. Stuart’s foundation has supported CASA organizations in Washington state and California for several decades. Stuart said although he is not an expert, he knows that when a volunteer is appointed by the court to advocate for the child it is very positive. The volunteer is interested in what is best for the child.
Each volunteer is an appointed officer of the court and must undergo an extensive background check and screening as well as complete a 30-hour training course. They also must stay with the case assigned until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Placement usually takes at least one year and many go much longer. However volunteers sometimes become such an important part of the child’s life they remain involved long past placement.
CASA El Dorado serves more than 400 kids annually. Judge Patrick Riley started a CASA program in 1992 on the western slope of El Dorado County and expanded the program in 1994 to include South Lake Tahoe. Currently 247 children have an advocate, with 16 on a waiting list, John Adams, executive director of CASA El Dorado said but the proposed budget cuts could deprive about 50 children of their advocate.
“That’s 50 children who currently depend on what is in many cases the one positive adult influence in their lives, an important mentor who provides them a voice as they navigate the foster care system,” Adams said.
The Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation granted a Celebrate Community Grant Award to CASA El Dorado but so much more is needed. Adams said the agency has already experienced a couple of rounds of budget cuts and everyone has had to take on additional responsibilities in order to provide the help needed. The CASA El Dorado program serves an average of 70 percent of the eligible children, making a significant difference in the lives of 385 children in 2010. With state funding to local courts slashed for the budget year 2011-2012 Adams said no money would be available from the local Superior Court system either.
CASA El Dorado now more than ever will require donations and fundraising in order to provide for the lack of funding. An upcoming event is scheduled for February, CASAblanca at the Lake. Adams said the goal is be able to build a more sustainable funding base in order to serve every child who needs a CASA advocate. To learn more about CASA El Dorado go to http://www.casaeldorado.org and learn how this organization is making a difference to assure that every child has a safe, permanent home.
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