YERINGTON - Applications are available at the Lyon County Court House in Yerington for anybody who wants to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster children.
Third District Court Judge Archie Blake wants to have the application and interview process for CASA volunteers completed by mid-January so prospective advocates can attend training in Washoe County in February.
Blake expects to have the first group of five to 10 advocates ready to appear in court alongside foster children in the second half of March.
Blake envisions appointing advocates in "hotly contested cases where there are serious allegations of neglect or where it doesn't appear things are moving the way they should."
CASAs play a unique role in the world of foster children. They speak on behalf of foster children who do not have a social worker, private attorney or court-appointed attorney during their appearances in court.
"Unlike attorneys and social workers, the CASA volunteer speaks exclusively for the child's best interests," reads a Washoe County CASA brochure.
Yerington resident Peggy Pauly led efforts to start a CASA program in Lyon County.
"Our goal is to make sure that every child has an advocate speaking for their best interest," said Pauly, a foster parent. "What I've seen personally with kids in my care is the judge does not get all the information about the child's case. CASA volunteers will interview everybody involved - the birth parents, foster parents, case worker and school teachers."
Blake welcomes the CASA concept more to prepare the county's judicial system for continuing growth than as a reaction to any problem.
"We don't have tremendous problems," Blake said. "As a matter of fact, we have very, very few problems. (Starting a CASA program) is not to rectify a problem. It's to improve the product."
Lyon County has about 74 foster children.
Blake said this is a pilot project and, if successful, may expand to neighboring Churchill County - the other half of the Third Judicial District.
Blake and District Court Judge Michael Huff will appoint the advocates after conferring with an advisory council. The judges adopted the program instigated by a small group of residents, led by Pauly.
"We appreciate the people who have participated in being a catalyst," Blake said. "Peggy Pauly has done a good job in getting everything set up."
Anyone at least 21 years old may apply to become a CASA volunteer. No special educational background is required, but a volunteer must have above-average perceptiveness, common sense and psychological maturity to deal with complex and emotional situations, according to the Washoe County CASA brochure.
Pauly said an advocate typically appears in court twice a year with a foster child.