— Recruiting and training volunteers is an essential part of any non-profit organization, and at CASA of Parker and Palo Pinto counties it is keenly important for the abused and neglected children served by CASA volunteers.
CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocate. When a child is removed from their home due to abuse and/or neglect, the judge in the case appoints a trained CASA volunteer to be his eyes and ears.
The two counties’ CASA programs are governed by CASA of Parker County Inc. The programs are members of Texas CASA and National CASA.
As the number of child abuse cases grows, so does the need for trained CASA volunteers. A child abuse case typically lasts about one year, so when a CASA volunteer is appointed to a case, he or she is advocating in the case for at least a one-year period.
“New cases are coming in faster than we have volunteers freed up from the cases they are appointed to,” said Barb Tucker, CASA of Parker County, Inc. Executive Director. “Thanks to the Meadows Foundation, we now have a staff member whose sole duty is to recruit and train volunteers.”
Trisha Duke was hired in the newly created position. She’s been with the CASA of Parker County program since 2011 as a volunteer and as an intern. In March 2012, Duke was hired in a staff position as the Information Systems Manager. She began the role of recruiter-trainer on Jan. 1.
“I am very excited to be able to spread the word about CASA,” said Duke. “I am available to talk to any group about the organization and explain what the volunteers do. I don’t want anyone to wonder what CASA stands for – in more ways than one. I want everyone to know, and in turn, be a part of this worthwhile organization.”
Duke has been actively recruiting local residents for the first training course of the new year, which begins Jan. 12.
“The volunteer must complete 30 hours of training and observe courtroom proceedings in child abuse cases before they are sworn in as a CASA volunteer,” Duke said.
The training is provided in several sessions. The training course that begins Jan. 12 will be conducted on Saturdays.
Future courses will be held in the evening hours, and weekday hours, to accommodate any person’s schedule who is interested in becoming a volunteer.
Once the training course is completed, the CASA volunteer is sworn in by a local judge and is ready to take the next available case. The CASA volunteer visits the child or sibling group at least once a month, communicates to people who have information about the child, and then reports the findings to the judge. There are usually four to five court hearings in the case during a year. The CASA volunteer is the voice for the child, or children, in the court system. Throughout the case, the CASA volunteer advocates for the child’s best interests, and works so the end result is that the child, or children, are placed in a safe, permanent home.
“CASA volunteers who make up this organization are so very important,” said Duke. “I will work hard to ensure the volunteers are properly trained so when they are appointed to a case, they will feel confident.”
Duke added that throughout the duration of a case, CASA staff is always ready to answer volunteers’ questions and assist them in many ways.
Most of the CASA’s work is done on his or her own time, including when they visit the child (in the foster home or having lunch with them at school), reviewing records, emailing and talking with others involved in the case, and reading and writing reports. Some workday meetings in the case includes the court hearings and visits between the parents and children (when the CASA observes interaction within the family).
“Typically a CASA volunteer will spend an average of 20 hours a month on their case,” Duke added.
“The CASA organization embodies the true meaning of community,” Duke added. “People are volunteering their time to invest in the future of their community.”
Volunteers can assist the CASA organization in several ways, including becoming an advocate for children in the court system, becoming a member of the Friends of CASA fundraising and promotion group, or using their talents and skills to benefit the organization.
CASA volunteer Joe Birmingham used his experience to research and write the grant request that was submitted to the Meadows Foundation for the recruiter-trainer position.
“Having Joe put his grant-writing talent to work for us was obviously very beneficial,” Tucker said. “We feel it was his great job in writing the request that the Meadows Foundation found our need for a recruiter-trainer very worthy.”
The Meadows Foundation assists people and institutions of Texas to improve the quality and circumstances of life for themselves and future generations. The Foundation’s vision is to strive to exemplify the principles of its founder in addressing basic human needs by working toward the elimination of ignorance, hopelessness and suffering, protecting the environment, providing cultural enrichment, encouraging excellence and promoting understanding and cooperation among people.
Each Meadows Foundation grant is considered individually. When awarding the grant to CASA of Parker County Inc., Bruce Esterline, the Foundation’s vice president for grants, said, “We appreciate the opportunity to assist your organization’s efforts toward hiring a volunteer recruiter-trainer to expand services for abused and neglected children.”
Duke is ready to speak with anyone interested in becoming a CASA volunteer for the Parker and/or Palo Pinto programs, or about speaking at their club or organizational meeting. Phone Duke at 817-599-6224 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To sign up for the next training course, which begins Saturday, contact Duke by today.