Just a few hours each week could make a huge difference in the future development of a child, said Willi Baer, executive director of the Pioneer Territory Court Appointed Special Advocate program in Pahrump.
Abbreviated as CASA, the organization regularly trains volunteers to become strong allies for abused and neglected children in the community, many of which have little or no support, even from the foster care and child welfare system.
The most recent lot, eight CASA volunteers, was sworn in November by Fifth Judicial District Court Dept. 2 Judge Robert W. Lane, serving both Esmeralda and Nye counties.
Baer also said overall, the foster care and child welfare system is teeming with well-intentioned lawyers, judges, social workers and foster families, but according to recent national statistics, more than 750,000 children are still placed in protective custody each year.
She hastened to mention that in Nye County, at any given time, there are between 80 and 100 children in the foster care system.
As a result of those figures, Baer noted that community awareness is crucial in terms of spreading the word to those in and around Southern Nevada, who may not be familiar with the program.
“The more people who know about our organization, the more support we will receive, which then trickles down to the services we can provide to children in foster care,” she advised.
“The communities within the Fifth Judicial District in Nye, Esmeralda and Mineral counties have been extremely supportive since our inception.”
Out of sight, out of mind
Baer lamented that there are many abused and neglected children who live under the radar and have been forced to move from their homes and change schools multiple times within a calendar year.
“Many children in foster care have been neglected and often abused by parents and/or guardians,” Baer said.
“CASA volunteers aid in finding permanent, loving homes for these children who previously have had none. The need is great, and it would be ideal to have a CASA volunteer to advocate for each abused and neglected set of siblings. We currently have trained CASA volunteers who reside in the Pahrump area and we intend to recruit and train many more each year.”
Walking the walk
Baer stressed that all prospective CASA volunteers must first complete the entire application process prior to being accepted into the program.
“That includes completing the application form, providing three references and participating in a face-to-face in-depth interview,” she said. “A national and state background check is also part of the requirements.”
Baer also noted that at present, CASA offers volunteers one training class per year, which consists of 36 hours during a four-week period, including guest speakers from related agencies, as well as the court system itself.
Physically observing various court cases is also mandatory.
Once all of the training obligations are met by volunteers, they are officially sworn in at court, where they are presented with credentials and assigned a case which is reviewed with them by a supervisor.
“All of the trainees are required to abide by the confidentiality statement they have signed,” Baer said. “Failure to do so could result in termination of their volunteer duties and withdrawal of their credentials.”
Additionally, Baer said collecting and providing various items of comfort for abused and neglected children is also part of what the CASA program routinely supports, courtesy of the “CASA Closet.”
She noted that at times, children are removed from homes in the middle of the night with nothing more than what they are wearing.
“The CASA Closet has clothing, including coats, pants, shirts, jackets, shoes, underwear and pajamas for every child in protective custody,” Baer said. “The closet also has stuffed teddy bears donated by Soroptimist International Pahrump Valley as well as diapers, and bathroom supplies, including shampoos and soaps. The closet also provides for baby furniture such as booster seats and travel cribs.”
To learn more about CASA volunteer opportunities, or to sign up for the next CASA training class call 775-513-9514 or 775-513-9513.
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @pvtimes