Employees are getting excited at the county’s Department of Public Health and Human Services about the new Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program that will begin to take shape this summer and is designed to aid local youth.
De Vere Karlson, chief juvenile probation officer and facility director, said she is excited to finally have the CASA program in Churchill County.
“We’ve been trying to get the CASA program into our county for many years and finally all of the right people aligned to make it possible,” Karlson said.
Kelli Weishaupt, Social Services manager, said this program will do great things for children.
“CASA is a program for children that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to advocate for the best interest of children who come through our system in the courtroom, home life and community,” Weishaupt said. “The volunteers are empowered by the court and offers the judges information needed to ensure each child’s rights and needs are being met while in foster care.”
Weishaupt said more than 35 abused and neglected children live in foster care because they cannot live safely at home. May is also National Foster Care Month.
“The volunteers will be the voice of the children,” Weishaupt said. “The volunteers will know the children or child they’re assigned to well, they will be mentor’s to them. The will know the child well, know what the child wants or doesn’t want, recommended the child’s best interest to the judge, identify problems when they come up or better yet before they come up and influence the child’s life during the difficult time.”
Weishaupt said caseworkers have a high number of turnovers with children and getting CASA volunteers would benefit the children immensely. She said volunteers are suppose to stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Weishaupt said for many abused children, the CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.
Karlson said her upcoming retirement gives her the opportunity to take the position of the coordinator until the program is able to hire a part time coordinator.
“I’ll start taking over in July or August as the coordinator,” Karlson said. “My duty will include recruiting volunteers to become CASA’s, making sure they get the proper training, assign them to children and monitor the work they are doing with the child.”
Karlson said volunteers must be 21 or older, and will go through an extensive background check as well as 40 hours of training.
“Nothing will be overlooked when it comes to our volunteers,” Karlson said. “We will make sure they’re right for the program and for the children. I’ve already started recruiting and have had a good response so far from several residents in the community.”
Karlson said the recruiting will take place this summer, followed by training and the hope is to have volunteers assigned to children by January 2015.
Karlson asks anyone who wants information about becoming a volunteer to call her at 775-217-6004 or 775-423-6088, ext. 254 (this number starting in August).
Weishaupt said Churchill County is in need of foster families.
“We are a little short on foster families,” Weishaupt said. “The foster families are asked to take children with little to hardly any belonging and to take them in as their own family. The foster families that we do have are great but we’re starting to get more children in our care than we have foster families to put them in.”
Weishaupt said foster parents are to protect and nurture children assigned to them in a safe and healthy environment.
“Children in foster care have been removed from their homes for safety reasons,” Weishaupt said. “We then put them in our system and see if we’re able to place them in a foster family until their parents address the concerns that brought them to us. Some children are placed with relativities and other go into adoptive families to provide permanence for them.
Weishaupt said there are guidelines for foster families. She said they must be 21 years of age or older. She said foster parents can be single or married, working or a stay-at-home parent, and foster parents can identify the age and gender of children they’re comfortable parenting.
Weishaupt said an in depth background check and financial stability is required to become a foster parent. She said foster parents need a stable residence with a separate room for the child, 27 hours of pre-service training offered by the agency, home safety requirements must be met and foster parents must get licensed.
For information about becoming a foster parent, contact 888-423-2659.