Child advocates desperately needed in St. Charles Parish
Many of Child Advocacy Services’ programs rely on volunteers, especially the Court Appointed Child Advocates program, or CASA.
CASA recruits, trains and supervises volunteers who serve as a powerful voice for abused and neglected children.
Unfortunately, some children in St. Charles Parish still don’t have someone like this to stand up for them.
The program currently has 19 volunteers, but there are still five children on the waiting list for an advocate.
"I think the problem with finding volunteers is that they don't understand the responsibilities of being a CASA," said Connie Stein, CASA Volunteer Recruiter. "It only takes 3-10 hours a month to work a case."
Stein said that those 3-10 hours can do a world of good for children involved with the program.
After becoming an expert about their case, volunteers make recommendations to a judge to ensure that the child is placed in a safe and permanent home.
"Children with a CASA are 13.3 percent less likely to remain in long-term foster care verses 27 percent who are without a CASA," she said. "To become a volunteer does not require any special education or background, simply a desire to make a difference in the life of an abused and neglected child."
Stein said the only other requirements are that volunteers must be over 21 years old, pass a background check and complete 30 hours of training.
Jacqueline Awasthi, a Destrehan resident, has been volunteering as an advocate for a year and said it has been a very rewarding experience.
"It's extremely rewarding to be a positive force in a child's life," Awasthi said. "One of the best things about being a CASA is that the work I do is taken seriously by the judge who is over the case, so I don't feel like I'm at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak.
"I'm definitely an important role and an important force for the child I work for."
Awasthi said the main part of a volunteer's workload is gathering information on the case they are assigned.
Volunteers look into the child's past and speak to the people he or she is involved with.
"The goal is to see that the child is in a good place and if the child is not in a good place to get into action and get them to the place where we feel like should be a safe, happy environment," Awasthi said.
Awasthi's first case was one in which the child was taken from his mother due to negligence in the terms of how the mother kept the home.
"I formed a relationship with the mother and helped her to clean out her space…to make it livable for her and her child," Awasthi said. "Basically, she was just somebody who needed help with that. I was able to be flexible and help her and she was able to win her son back so they're happy."
Awasthi said she agrees that most people who are interested in volunteering can be deterred because they don't understand the amount of work involved.
"It's really not an intense job in terms of hours," she said. "The little that I do - and I feel like I don't do a lot at all - is really not as time consuming as it sounds. Sometimes it's just a matter of making some phone calls. You're only required to visit the child one a month.
"It's not as rigorous as it may sound, but it is rewarding."
Those interested in becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate can call Connie Stein, volunteer recruiter, at (225)647-2005 or visit www.childadv.net.
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