Advocating for children: CASA celebrates 30th anniversary
When children find themselves placed into foster care due to abuse or neglect from their biological parents their world is often turned upside down. From the time they leave their home, they may go through a series of foster families and DHS workers until their case is ultimately resolved. But during this time, one person remains consistent, their Court Appointed Special Advocate, otherwise known as a CASA volunteer.
CASA is a nonprofit organization that works closely with the court and DHS to advocate for the best interest of children within the court system,. CASA of Southern Oklahoma is now celebrating 30 years of doing just that. It first began in Carter County but has now expanded to also include Love, Johnston, Marshall and Murray counties as well
Advocate Supervisor Amy Martens described the work CASA volunteers do.
“They average three to five hours a month,” she said. “They're required to see the child once a month in their placement. They're also required to speak with DHS, with the foster and biological parents, and any other parties involved. But it's most important for them to see the child in the home and know what their feelings are. For the most part that lasts about a year to a year and a half with each child, and though some cases definitely last longer than that, I wouldn't say there are any shorter than that.”
Martens said the past year dealing with all of the challenges and changes brought about by COVID has been tricky, but the volunteers were able to come up with creative means to meet with the children and help provide them with the support they need.
“A lot of them would do curbside visits, and one of our volunteers took the kids fishing, so they were able to spread out and be outside,” she said. “We've also been able to help with their educational needs by printing out worksheets and things like that for parents without printers, and we were able to help the parents who needed help with groceries get the things they needed.”
Another negative impact brought about by the pandemic came from the loss of volunteers. Martens said there are currently around 50 volunteers where as in years past there were upwards of 100. Fortunately training to become a volunteer is now easier than ever as interested parties can do most of their training online.
“The course takes about five weeks to complete and overall is composed of about 30 hours,” Martens said. “People are able to do it on their own time, and at the very end they come into the office and have some one on one training that lasts about an hour. Once they complete that I let them look through a case file so they are familiar with the paperwork and the legal process. Then we sign them up with a case once one is appointed by a judge.”
In addition to the online training, volunteers can also choose to come into the office to train in person. As with the online training, volunteers can come in on their own schedule until all training is complete.
Martens said the next date for the online classes to begin is August 23 and it will conclude on September 27. Two more online training opportunities will also be scheduled for later during the year. All volunteers must be over 21, have references and are required to pass a background check. For more information about volunteering call the office at 580-226-0009 or online at www.casasok.org.