Every child deserves to be happy, nurtured, well cared for and loved. Unfortunately, even here in south central Oklahoma, there are children who are simply deprived of these basic necessities.
Lynn Riley, Court Appointed Special Advocate Executive Director, said within the past week a number of such children — those found to be deprived, neglected and/or abused, were adjudicated in area district courts. What that means is those children, like dozens already in "the system" are now under the protection of the court.
The knee-jerk reaction when learning about such children is to immediately block the mental image of such anguish with happier, easier to live with thoughts. It's simply easier to believe the court and agencies that serve such children will take care of the problem. And while the courts and agencies involved in protecting children do their part, Riley said what each of these children desperately needs is a special friend — a CASA volunteer.
What does a CASA volunteer do that others can't?
"They (children) know no one — they have no one who is familiar to them. It is like they're being punished," Riley said, explaining how a child who has been removed from their home feels. "A CASA volunteer is that one person the child can rely on — the advocate offers a solid relationship. The CASA becomes their call-home place to report their successes, failures, needs and sometimes just to hear someone say we miss you or love you."
While a CASA volunteer plays a vitally important role in filling a huge void in a child's everyday life, they also play an equally important role in the child's future.
"Our goal is to be the eyes and ears for the judges and the (independent) voice for children in Carter, Johnston, Love, Marshall and Murray counties," Riley said. "CASAs do a court report approximately every six months, with the help of the staff. The judge values the CASA's report. The report is based on facts, which have been gathered, along with visits with the children as to what is in their best interest. The CASA aids the judge by giving a recommendation that is outside the realm of bureaucracy."
If CASA volunteers fill such essential roles what's the problem?
Right now there are simply not enough volunteers to go around. Riley hops area residents will step forward an offer to become a CASA. To that end, she has scheduled volunteer training from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting Tuesday in the CASA offices, located on the fourth floor of the Carter County Courthouse. The training will be offered at the same time for six consecutive Tuesdays.
Who can become a CASA? Just about everyone. Riley said volunteers come in all sizes, shapes and ages and from all social, economical, and ethnic backgrounds. Volunteers don't have to have any special skills, talents, education or experience.
The only requirements are: a desire to help a desperate child, fill out an application, supply three references, complete an interview, successfully pass a criminal background child and complete training.
What happens if someone is interested, but can't participate in training on the next six Tuesdays? Riley said to give her a call or drop by the CASA office.
"I'm willing to work with them to get their training," she said. "The need is great and the need is now."
To volunteer or ask questions call (580) 226-0009 or drop by the CASA office on the fourth floor of the Carter County Courthouse.