The family and home should be at the very core of any young life. When these turn against the child or youth, where does one turn? The need to make sure the child in need is heard is a growing problem in our nation and our community.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. When the darkness in a child’s life reaches the crises level then DEFACS and the Court System is often called in. This brings into action, a team of support for the child in need. One of the key parts of this support team is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).The CASA worker is a volunteer from the community committed to advocating for the best interest of a foster care child in the community and in Juvenile court. The CASA Volunteers will receive 30 hours of training plus spend 10 hours of observing in Juvenile Court before being assigned to a child.
Since January of 2014, the number of children in the program in Newton County has tripled. This same rapid expansion of need is true throughout our state and nation. And the need continues to expand. There are currently 28 CASA volunteers in our county, and according to Lindsay Tyner, the Executive Director of Alcovy CASA there is a need for another fifty today. And the need continues to grow.
Alcovy CASA is a part of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit. There is an office in both Newton and Walton Counties. The judges who serve in the Juvenile courts of both counties are appointed to four year terms by the Superior Court Judges of the Circuit. Currently in Newton County the Chief Juvenile Judge is the Honorable Sheri C. Roberts. The Honorable Lisa M. Mantz is the Associate Juvenile Judge.
Upon entering the Foster Care system in Newton County, the goal is for each child to be assigned a CASA volunteer. A volunteer will have the children from a family to be their responsibility. Every attempt is made to keep siblings together but exceptions are made when the number is too great for a given home. Sometime for safety reasons the siblings need to be separated.
The ages of the children in the program range from birth to seventeen. At eighteen there is a possibility that the child will elect to stay in the program for shelter and counseling for an additional three years.
The CASA Volunteer task is to gather information and report his or her findings to the court, and to attend court hearings. In this way, the Volunteer becomes an independent source of information for the Judge and the Court in making future decisions. The hope is to give a voice to each child.
The Volunteer is a part of a team supporting the child. There are social workers, attorneys, officials of the court, their natural family, their foster parent, therapist, doctors, faculty members of the school and staff from DFACS. But the one member of the team that is focused individually on the child is the CASA volunteer. The volunteer talks with all involved.
The goal for each child is find a permanent solution which provides for the best interest of the child. Until that is resolved the Volunteer focus remains on the child. The CASA Volunteer stays with the child all the way through the process.
Dave Pelzer wrote of his own survival from extreme child abuse in a book entitled, “A Child Called ‘It’, One Child’s Courage to Survive.” His thesis as “Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.” You can be a part of bringing the “sunshine” back to the world of a child that has grown dark.
If you would to like to get information about becoming a CASA volunteer in Newton County, you are urged to contact Lindsay Tyner at 678-625-1246 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can get more information about CASA at www.alocovycasa.org.
When I asked Director Tyner if there were other ways that one could volunteer to be a part of the CASA program short of being as involved fully as being assigned to a child, she gave me a need on almost every Thursday. There is a need for trained volunteers to give child care while the family is involved in court hearings. You can get more information at the same contacts as above.
Child Abuse Prevention Month is a good time to consider being a part of this answer to a great need. You might be just the person to become the eyes and ears of a child that needs an advocate. And I not you, you may know someone to encourage to be a part of this program. The world can be a hard place to grow up in and what may be needed it someone to speak up for you.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.