BY ROSIE PIGA PIZZO
The goal of CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children program, is to put itself out of business.
Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. In fact, the Monroe County program needs volunteers now more than ever. The role of a CASA volunteer is to stand up for children who are involved in juvenile court because they have been abused or neglected.
Monroe County CASA began in 1983 with 8 volunteers advocating for 14 children. By 2012 the numbers had grown to 100 volunteers advocating for 274 children. “It [abuse and neglect] isn’t an economic problem,” says CASA Assistant Director Amanda Wyatt. “It reaches into every neighborhood in Bloomington.” Many parents don’t realize, she adds, that their children attend school with children who are suffering from these traumas.
“The focus is on finding permanency for children, either back with their biological family or adoption,” explains CASA Director Kristin Bishay. “The goal is to not see them back in the system. The vision [for CASA] is to be put out of business.”
A CASA volunteer works with a child or set of siblings from the beginning of a case to the end, so they must be able to make a one-year commitment. “Once we introduce a CASA volunteer to a child, we want that person to be there for the entire time,” Bishay says. While case workers and attorneys may not be able to see a case through, “the CASA volunteer is the one consistent person for the child,” she says. “Judges have great respect for CASA volunteers.”
Says Jennifer McBride, a three-year volunteer, “The judge really listens to the CASA recommendation. I feel like everyone involved really respects my opinion.”
To become a CASA volunteer, one must attend a five-and-a-half-week training program consisting of two 3-hour sessions per week. “There are children out there who need a CASA,” Bishay says. “We have had a consistent waiting list for the past year and a half.”
The recruitment, training, and managing of volunteers is possible through fundraisers such as the May 7 golf event, Chipping in for CASA, at Eagle Pointe Golf Resort, and the CASA For Kids Playhouse contest.