By Selwyn Harris
Local foster children who have been abused and neglected now have even more support as they make their way through the court system.
Court Appointed Special Advocates CASA is a national program that has been in existence for more than 30 years.
Members of the program volunteer their time to protect the best interests of children by being their eyes and ears in court.
Each volunteer must complete more than 30 hours of training, which includes understanding court protocol, becoming familiar with policies and procedures, and recognizing the different forms of abuse that might be presented in each case.
CASA Executive Director Willi Baer said close to a dozen volunteers were sworn in during a special ceremony in Judge Roberts Lane’s courtroom on Friday.
“We are so happy that today we swore in our fourth class of CASA’s. There was 11 that graduated and this brings the number to 32 in a year and a half. They volunteer their time and they are very dedicated. They all go through 36 hours of training for three weeks prior to being sworn in. It is very in depth and we have a lot of guest speakers that come in and talk about child abuse and so forth,” she said.
Lane noted that the volunteers come in under the authority of the court after speaking to friends, neighbors, and teachers of the victims to provide sufficient information for the judge to make the best decision on what is best for the child at the time.
He noted that the cases vary on a wide range under the court system.
“That could be criminal, civil, DCFS or divorce. We then get input from that citizen volunteer to tell us what they think we should do with this child, meaning should we return them to the parent, should we put them in a foster home or whatever. The CASA person works with that child very closely and I’m sure develops wonderful memories for years to come because of the help they are getting,” he said.
“We are really grateful for each of the individuals who volunteer. We have a large group now thanks to Willi but nonetheless we recognize each of them as being a citizen who gives up their own time to volunteer and help us with the kids. As most of us know within the community, there is a lot of citizens who take care of the fireworks, and the Harvest Festival who volunteer all of the time. Whenever citizens like this give up their own time to come and help out, we really appreciate it,” he said.
In Nevada, there are seven independently operated CASA programs.
Children in Pahrump are covered by the Pioneer Territory program located at 2280 East Calvada Blvd., Suite 103.
Baer noted that more than 100 children are registered in the Fifth Judicial District in Nye County and of those, at least half have CASA volunteers defending them.
“The number of kids being served right now is probably around 50. Our goal is to have a CASA for every set of siblings. If there is six in the family, we have one CASA. If there is one in the family, we have one CASA. The number kind of varies. We have 30 CASA’s right now; the new ones that were assigned in don’t all have cases yet but they will within the next couple of weeks,” she said.
Baer also noted that the need for volunteers is crucial to maintain the support for the foster care children in Nye County.
“Since we began, we officially have 32. Four, however, have moved out of Pahrump. Two moved to Reno and two moved to Ely and then there are another two who are inactive meaning their cases have closed and they have not yet been reassigned. Currently we have 26 active CASA’s.
“This class was particularly special because I was telling them about a young man who is in foster care who has a CASA and his bicycle is his only means of transportation and was stolen. When I told the class, they said ‘we will buy the bike.’ They all chipped in 10 bucks and got him a beautiful brand new shiny red bike with a helmet and a lock,” she said.
Lane also made the point that prior to the CASA program there was virtually no one who provided support for foster children in the Pahrump Valley with the exception of a handful of social workers and other professionals who were already burdened with heavy caseloads.
“Sometimes lawyers or Guardians Ad Litem would be appointed but that would be on an occasional case and not regularly like the CASA people do,” Lane said.
The CASA program originated in 1977 when a Seattle juvenile court judge raised concerns about making drastic decisions with insufficient information in many cases involving foster children.
The idea of recruiting citizen volunteers advocating for abused and neglected children in the courtroom was then conceived.
That first program has since blossomed into a nation-wide network that recruits and trains volunteers in 49 states.
At present, there are more than 68,000 volunteers serving in the program.
Since its inception, CASA volunteers have helped more than 2 million children find safe and permanent homes.
Those who are interested in volunteering locally may call the Pahrump office at 702 592-5276.