Volunteers needed to help abused children
Abused children in St. Charles Parish need someone to speak up for them, and by volunteering to serve as a court appointed advocate, members of the community will get that chance.
Child Advocacy Services is seeking volunteers from the parish to help children who have been removed from abusive environments find a stable home. Volunteers do this by learning everything they can about a particular abuse case and then speaking for the child at court.
Currently, there are five active CASA volunteers and two who are going through an independent study program.
There are 19 children that need help in the parish.
According to the Office of Community Services, 404 cases were investigated for abuse or neglect in the River Parishes in 2007. One hundred and twenty-one of those cases were validated.
Trista Brazan, CASA's recruiter for the River Parishes area, says that children who go into the state's custody spend an average of three years in the foster care system. With a CASA volunteer, they average 16 months before they are placed in a safe and permanent home.
"The St. Charles CASA program has grown a lot in the last couple of years," Brazan said. "Currently, our program is receiving the full support of the St. Charles Parish judges and the CASA program is being appointed to the majority of the Child In Need of Care Cases.
"Therefore, we are constantly recruiting volunteers to be appointed to cases that may be waiting for volunteers or future appointments."
CASA is having a hard time finding people interested in helping out these children.
"Generally, when I started here four months ago, we had started getting a lot of calls from interested volunteers," Brazan said. "That has really dropped off during the past two months."
Brazan is hoping that a big recruitment push might help change that. Anyone over the age of 21 is eligible to become a volunteer. Court appointed advocate volunteers are required to go through a 40-hour training session before they become eligible. The next training session begins on March 3.
Individuals who can't make the training schedule can choose to go through independent study. That may take a little longer to complete, but can be done on the person's own time.
After the training is complete, the volunteer will be eligible to take on a case. If the judge appoints CASA to the case, the organization then matches the case to a volunteer. All volunteers have the right to turn down a case if they are uncomfortable.
If the volunteer accepts the case, the supervisor sets up a meeting between the volunteer and the child. The volunteer speaks to the child and observes the environment to determine if the child would be safe there. The volunteer then speaks to anyone involved in that child's life, like teachers, to discuss the case further. After they gather evidence, the volunteer makes a case plan and it is submitted to the judge in a court report.
The CASA volunteer will then attend court and speak on behalf of the child. All of the volunteers have to commit for at least one year and they usually spend one to two hours a week on the case.
"The reason why the volunteers are so important is because they only take one case and they are able to focus all of their efforts on that case," Brazan said. "Lawyers and judges are extremely busy and the volunteer serves as an objective voice that soon becomes an expert on the case."
If interested in becoming a volunteer, contact Brazan at 985-652-8484 or visit www.childadv.net.
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