As advocates for children involved in child welfare cases, CASA volunteers help youngsters achieve safe and stable homes. Although the work often isn’t easy, it is always rewarding.
“Caring about children, to me, is No. 1 in this,” said Jim Williams, a new CASA volunteer. “You have to understand that that’s our country’s future, and you want what’s best for them.”
What to expect
Those who are interested in becoming a volunteer must first complete a training process and work with an experienced mentor. CASA staff members ensure that each volunteer is adequately prepared before working a case on their own.
“A lot of people are scared to come and volunteer because they think they can’t do it, and that’s simply not the case,” said longtime volunteer Kristie Woods. “They can if they want to put in the time.”
A volunteer’s responsibility is to collect information about a child’s daily living situation, which helps the juvenile court judge make custody decisions. Visits to the child’s home, school, doctor’s office, therapist or other locations are often required in order to get an accurate and complete representation.
“You don’t carry the responsibility of the final decision. … That decision is made by the court system,” Williams said. “Our responsibility, as best we can given the resources and the assistance that we are given, is to collect as much information from all the sources that are available so that the court system can make the best decision. We are their eyes and ears.”
If someone is having trouble with a particular case, volunteer Regina Perkins said CASA staff or other volunteers are always available to help. Program coordinator Shannon Kern agreed, adding that it’s important for volunteers to be objective and open-minded.
“We can’t show any bias or lean one way versus another,” Kern said, “because our end goal is we’re here for the child, bottom line.”
Why get involved?
Perkins said her experience has opened her eyes to the problems people are facing in this region.
“I always tell everybody I must have lived in a bubble,” Perkins said, “because I’ve seen a whole lot more now than I ever knew before I came to do this.”
Woods added that she’s gained not only a tight-knit group of friends, but also knowledge that she’s used to educate her own children.
“We all grow,” Woods said. “This is not an experience that’s a negative experience; it’s actually a positive experience. You might deal with a lot of negative issues, but it’s still a positive experience.”
CASA is currently in need of volunteers ahead of the winter months. For more information on how to get involved, call (423) 247-1161.