CASA needs volunteers
Time. It’s something people claim to lack and find hard to sacrifice.
For children tossed around in the legal system, constant time given by an adult is essential.
In South Lake Tahoe, 111 children are dependents of the court. They are sometimes caught between feuding parents or are the victims of neglect and abuse. The officers of the court and social workers strive to make decisions in the best interests of the children, but in actuality they are often overburdened.
In 1977 a Washington judge, who recognized that children needed more of a voice in their future, started a program utilizing Court Appointed Special Advocates or CASA. The CASA worker’s job is to be an unbiased, independent voice for the children. CASA El Dorado began in Placerville in 1992. Case manager Julie Henry said South Lake Tahoe now has 30 active volunteers serving 50 of the 111 children.
The volunteers undergo 30 hours of training, take an oath of confidentiality, and wait for a judge to assign them a case. They conduct an independent investigation of the case by interviewing teachers, counselors, foster and birth parents, social workers and by spending time with the children. The volunteers than make a report and recommendations to the judge based on their findings. Then they monitor the case until it is closed or the child has found a safe, permanent home.
“The CASA worker is the one consistent person through the whole system,” Henry said. “When everything is changing in a child’s life, they are the one constant.”
Stella Buchman joined CASA three years ago after her children started college.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. It has enriched my life,” Buchman said, adding that the time commitment has never been a problem. “Even though it does take up a fair amount of time, we could all fit it in our daily program. In reality we all have time to spare.”
Henry said the commitment time ranges, depending on the case, but it averages about 10 to 12 hours a month. The length of the case assignment also varies.
When Wendy David joined the program, she was shocked to see firsthand the large case loads social workers are sometimes forced to handle.
“They’re overworked and they don’t really have the time or energy to give to the kids,” David said. “I was amazed that they made decisions based on very little time spent with the children.”
David said her time as a CASA volunteer has been one of the most rewarding of her life.
“You have a direct influence on a child’s future. You’re involved in something that really makes a difference,” David said.
Henry said that research has shown that children with an assigned CASA worker tend to experience fewer placement changes and the time spent in out-of-home care is reduced.
For people who are unsure about the time commitment involved with CASA, another program is offering a chance to become a “soft” mentor.
“We want to give people a chance to get a flavor of mentoring, people who might have been scared by the time commitment,” said DeAnne Hooper, public health education coordinator. “We’re asking for a total commitment of five hours in a group setting. The five hours can be stretched out over several months. If after the five hours they want to continue we can place them in a one-on-one setting.”
The training is set for March 30, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the El Dorado County Public Library, 1000 Rufus Allen Blvd. For more information call DeAnne Hooper at (530) 573-3383.
The next Court-Appointed Advocacy Training course will be offered through Lake Tahoe Community College April 5 to May 11, two nights a week. For more information call (530) 573-3072.
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