FEATURE FRIDAY: CASA volunteers have a heart for kids

Thunder Radio feature story by Susan Campbell

Across the country, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) work to support children who have suffered from abuse or neglect, with the goal of providing safe, permanent homes and the opportunity to thrive.

Locally, CASA Works advocates for children in Coffee, Bedford and Franklin counties as they make their way through the foster care system. With a staff of three, much of the nonprofit’s work relies on the 46 dedicated volunteers in the three counties who work with the children. In 2019, CASA Works volunteers and staff advocated for 532 children, according to Executive Director Wanda Strayhorn.

“There are not enough volunteers, but many of our volunteers serve more than one case at a time, with supervisors accepting cases until a volunteer is available,” Strayhorn said. “I am proud to report that all children receive effective advocacy. As of June 2020, we are serving a total of 421 children in all three counties. We are happy to announce many of the children from last year have either been reunited with parents, are living with family, have found long time placement or were adopted.”

According to Strayhorn, volunteers are just ordinary citizens with a heart for children. But there are a few requirements. Those volunteering must be at least 21 years old; submit to finger-printing and a background check; attend 35 hours of pre-service training; monitor court proceedings; attend in-service education and on-going training as scheduled, with a required minimum attendance of 12 hours per calendar year; and commit at least one year to their service. Pre-service training is done by CASA Works staff, and covers everything from the judicial system to child welfare education.

CASA Works volunteers act as independent investigators, according to Strayhorn. Under the supervision of the CASA staff, they interview all parties involved with their assigned cases and record all findings as investigation progresses; confer with the staff during this process; keep a log of case hours and mileage; prepare reports to court, and attend and testify in court hearings and Foster Care Review Board hearings.

Those interested in learning more about becoming a CASA Works volunteer may visit the website at www.casaworks.org, or email Strayhorn at wanda@casaworks.org.

According to Strayhorn, CASA Works benefits the communities it serves because its focus is on the child who is facing one of the most traumatic times in his or her life.

“CASA Works monitors all parties who have influence with the child, but our goal is to be the voice for the child in court, school, with the Department of Children Services, physicians, mental health providers and their families,” she said.

“We work with the authority of the county juvenile judge. When CASA is assigned a case, our observations and monitoring provide us with fact-based, objective information that is submitted to the juvenile judge in a written court report. This court report provides information about everyone that has been interviewed, recommendations for the best Interest of the child and the current status of the child’s placement. This report aids the judge in making more informed decisions about the next steps to take for the good of the child and parents.”
In addition to Strayhorn, Teresa Barber services as Coffee County supervisor. She may be reached by email at teresa@casaworks.org.

Funding for the nonprofit comes primarily from grants, fundraisers, and the solicitation of donations from community organizations and individuals. In order for CASA Works to continue performing the quality advocacy for children, donations will be greatly appreciated and individuals who may be interested in becoming a volunteer are welcomed, according to Strayhorn.