Court Appointed Special Advocates of Grayson County needs a few good people to represent the interest of local children in court and they need them now.
Shane Hill, CASA’s executive director, said the group’s recent audit from the state organization left them between a rock and a sad place. The CASA representatives that are already on cases can stay, according to the state organization, but CASA of Grayson County can’t take on any more new cases until they get more volunteers.
A trained CASA representative is appointed by the district judge each time a child is removed from their home due to allegations of abuse or neglect. The CASA meets with all of the people involved in the case to find out what is in the child’s best interest. The CASA then reports that to the judge. Judges use that information to make decisions in cases.
Hill said if CASA of Grayson County doesn’t get some more volunteers trained quickly, some children might have to navigate the system without a voice speaking for their best interest.
The goal is to make sure that no one volunteer is so overwhelmed with work that she or he can’t give each child’s case the kind of personal attention needed. A CASA volunteer may only stay with a child’s case for a few months if the child is adopted or returned to a stabilized home. However, if the child stays in the legal system by way of foster care or a protracted court case, the CASA could stay with the child’s case until the child ages out of the system.
Regardless of how long they stay, Hill said, he can’t train the volunteers fast enough to meet the need in Grayson County.
“We have held more trainings and assigned more volunteers the last couple of years than ever before but we just can’t keep up,” Hill said. Each CASA can represent two cases at a time.
CASA of Grayson County is currently working 61 cases which involve a total of 106 children.
The CASA national website says that CASA began in 1977 when a Seattle juvenile court judge who was concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. Now there area more than 951 CASA and guardian ad litem programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
To be a CASA volunteer, one doesn’t need any specialized training in law or social work. The training required is offered by CASA of Grayson County. A prospective volunteer must be at least 21 years old and must pass a criminal background check. Hill said that, on average, a case takes around two to three hours of work a week during its initial phase when things are most demanding. Then as the case goes through the system, the time required to work on it can lessen.
“The ideal CASA volunteer is someone who wants to take a stand and be a voice for an abused or neglected child. We have people from professional backgrounds as well as those from a more blue-collar type history. The important thing is that they have a strong desire to make a difference,” Hill said.
For more information about becoming a CASA volunteer please call 903-813-5400.