When a child is removed from his home due to evidence of abuse or neglect, going through the child welfare system can be a very frightening experience. Just imagine, being uprooted from the only life you know, facing many different people, and entering into a completely unfamiliar environment. CASA believes no child should have to go through that process alone.
What is CASA?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained adult, sworn in by a judge, who represents children who are abused or neglected. The volunteer is assigned an active case in the juvenile court system and immediately begins researching the child’s circumstances. The CASA volunteer then provides factual information and makes recommendations to the court while being a source of support for the child. The judge uses this information when making decisions based on the child’s best interest.
Locally, CASA of Oklahoma County located in Oklahoma City, recruits, trains and oversees this corps of volunteers. LeAnn Limber, CASA of Oklahoma County Executive Director, states, “In the 2010 calendar year, 240 CASA volunteers served over 820 Oklahoma children. We typically serve 300 cases annually which account for approximately 30 percent of existing cases.” Although many children in custody do benefit from a CASA volunteer, there aren’t enough volunteers for every child in need. “To serve another 70 percent (all cases) could easily mean another 400 volunteers on top of our existing volunteers,” Limber said, “The ultimate goal is to find every child a safe and permanent home where they can thrive and live to their full potential.”
Be the Voice
Becoming a CASA volunteer can lead to a very meaningful contribution to society. To become a volunteer, you must:
• be at least 21 years of age.
• have a strong interest in children and their rights.
• devote time to training, gather information and follow up on assigned cases.
• have basic human relation skills.
• be able to communicate well both verbally and in writing.
• pass police record and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation background check.
• provide three references.
• pass a screening interview.
Volunteers, on average, commit three to five hours per week on their child(ren)’s behalf. CASA volunteers must initially attend 38 hours of training and agree to one year of service. Following one year of service, volunteers attend 12 hours of inservice/support groups per year.
Margaret Corenson has been a CASA volunteer for 13 years. When asked about how CASA has impacted her life she replied, “It has been a huge experience. I consider CASA going to school… I learn something new every time. I learn new ways people torture their children. Though, I can say, that in almost every single case I’ve worked on it has turned out positive; the child finds a safe permanent home or the child is returned to their home.” She explains her duties as a volunteer. “After training, you are sworn in and become an officer of the court. You always consider privacy issues and the Privacy Act. After you are assigned a case, you then have access to the child’s medical records, education records and grades. You can make home visits. The purpose is to then go back into the courtroom with a written report. The judges have always listened to what I have to say and always considered an alternative plan if needed. You get to know the child and everything about their life.”
CASA Support As with any nonprofit, funding is critical to CASA’s success. Most of the expenses of the organization relate to recruitment, training and supervision of volunteers, with one case manager overseeing up to 30 volunteers. In order for the organization to run efficiently, funding is needed. Expenses include recruitment, training and supervision. Cheryl Jones, Development Director for CASA of OK County said, “Sustainability is the most important thing. We have to know we can sustain; the kids have to know that we’re going to be there [for them].”
Judge Richard Kirby explained, “In Oklahoma, 34 percent of all children removed from their homes for abuse or neglect and placed in foster care are right here in Oklahoma County.We cannot maintain our CASA numbers or recruit more CASA volunteers without financial contributions.”
To be a CASA volunteer, contact Alex Corbitt, 405-713-6607. To make a financial contribution or form a business partnership, contact Cheryl Jones, 405-713-6612. For more information, visit okcountycasa.org.
The 2011 Redbud Classic
Each year, local non-profit agencies apply to be the beneficiary for the Redbud Classic. Throughout the year, the beneficiary partners with Redbud in preparing for the event and then helps provide volunteers for the races and other duties during the two-day event. This year, the Redbud Classic board of directors selected CASA of Oklahoma County.
“We hope to bring an awareness to the public of what exactly CASA does,” explained Race Director Patty Anthony. “And we hope our donation will enable them to train more volunteers to be advocates for these children.”
The 2011 Redbud Classic will be held April 10-11, providing both cycling and running events for all fitness levels. Events include:
• Cycling events: 10-, 33- and 50-mile tours. Tandem and recumbent cyclicsts may also register for 50-mile tours.
• Running events: 5K and 10K timed events plus a kids 1-mile fun run.
• Walking events: two-mile walk with or without baby stroller.
• Wheelchair: 5K course.
Registration fees and details:
• Early-bird discounted registration (before April 4): $25 for one event, $40 for both Saturday and Sunday events.
• Register April 4-8: $30 for one event, $50 for two
• April 9: $35 for Saturday, $30 for Sunday, $60 for both
• After April 10, $35 per event Packets and T-shirts will be mailed to those entering before April
Visit redbud.org for registration forms, more information and volunteer opportunities. To volunteer for Redbud Classic, contact Cheryl Jones, 405-713-6612.
Julie Dill is the mother of two and a MetroFamily magazine columnist.