When Child Protective Services steps in and removes a child from his or her home, that child begins a complicated, confusing and often frightening process, one in which the voice of the child can easily get lost. It is the job of Court Appointed Special Advocates to keep that from happening.
Nationally, CASA is a network of 946 programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers to be court-appointed special advocates to represent the best interests of children in the courtroom and other settings, according to the CASA website.
Each year, more than 600,000 children are put into foster care. Last year, more than 77,000 CASA and guardian ad litem volunteers helped 234,00 of those children find safe permanent homes.
In the three months of the last quarter, CPS handled cases involving 249 children in Johnson County. Of those, 66 did not have a special advocate because there were not enough volunteers to go around, said Lori Kretz, development manager for CASA of Johnson County.
“There just aren’t enough volunteers right now to meet the needs of our county,” Kretz said. “We need committed people from all walks of life who will join us in our fight to make sure these abused and neglected children successfully navigate the child welfare system.”
Becoming a CASA volunteer requires 14 hours of in-class training and 16 hours of online training, Kretz said. CASA of Johnson County has scheduled in-class training for Aug. 6, Aug. 8, Aug. 13 and Aug. 15. But, she said, those interested in volunteering should register as soon as possible to get the process underway.
“We wouldn’t turn down a volunteer just because they were registering at the last minute, but it does help if people register as soon as possible so we can get the background check and other requirements taken care of,” Kretz said.
Those requirements include, in addition to a background check, submission of references and an interview. Once a volunteer passes those steps and completes the class and online training, “you are sworn in and you are officially a CASA volunteer,” she said.