Carson City CASA in need of volunteers
The Carson City CASA is in desperate need of volunteers to help with children in the foster system in the community.
CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a group of volunteers who work with kids to help provide them with support, resources and assistance to get them through the foster care system. But, caseloads are increasing while volunteers are decreasing.
“We are struggling, we don’t have enough volunteers and that is right in sync with the lack of foster care families, and we just have more and more kids that are being removed from their homes,” said executive director Melanie McCormick.
Currently, they have about 115 kids in their care, with 65 active cases, and only about 28 volunteers. Each volunteer follows the cases until they’re closed by child services, meaning it can be weeks or even years they’re spending with the child.
McCormick said the volunteers also often work with the courts; sitting in on hearings to understand the judicial process and act as independent reporters for the courts to make the best recommendation for the child. The volunteer is an official part of the judicial proceedings as an appointed officer of the court who speaks exclusively for the child’s best interest.
“It isn’t about going to court, it is about being involved in their lives, and I think that is what CASA is about,” McCormick said.
The organization has been in Carson for more than 20 years, helping children who have been pulled from their homes due to neglect or danger. The volunteers go through training year-round and have to complete 30 hours of training. And while McCormick said they don’t expect the volunteers to be experts, they need to have an understanding of a number of important aspects such as developmental milestones, sexual assault issues, and families with different socioeconomic backgrounds.
“We want to show that everyone comes from all walks of life,” McCormick said.
She said they also want to instill in their volunteers the understanding that just because something happened to a family to end up in their situation doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad family.
“Things don’t often go bad overnight, there is a buildup before things get bad,” McCormick said.
For example she said, if dad loses his job and over the next few weeks goes downhill, then he starts drinking because he’s upset he can’t provide for his family, a domestic dispute between mom and dad occurs and the police are called then the kids end up with child services.
“We want to teach them that bad things can happen to good families,” McCormick said. “And we want to work with them and advocate for the children, sometimes families need help.”
McCormick and the courts held a swearing-in ceremony for their volunteers as a way to honor the work the volunteers do for the children.
“We wanted to have a way to honor them and show off their commitment and show how vital they are,” said McCormick. “We want to make sure the volunteers realize how important they are, how much we need them and acknowledge how this is what you have done and what you have accomplished for these kids.”
And the volunteers deal with a lot. Often the children are being taken out of bad situation and aren’t placed back until it’s fully resolved.
McCormick said they often are like detectives, talking with teachers, doctors, family, friends and neighbors to gather information to make the best recommendations for the children.
But it isn’t all bad. Many of the volunteers spend time doing fun things with the children such as planning activities together and supporting the child.
“It is all to support the child and make them feel good to have someone that wants to be there for them,” McCormick said.
Many of the volunteers go to school basketball games, plays and dance recitals.
“I can’t even tell you how many fourth grade band concerts I have been to,” McCormick said with a laugh. “But it is all worth it.”
They also help purchase things such as bicycles for the children, clothes and school supplies when necessary.
“We are trying to be the little guy… we try to do our best to help the children in our care.”
McCormick said that’s why it’s so vital more people join CASA, to continue to be able to serve the community and provide a better environment for the children.
“I believe the community needs to realize there are people out there who want to fight for our kids and be their voice for the kids in foster care,” McCormick said. “This is a community-wide problem, and the more people involved the better off our kids will be.
“The more the community realizes these are all our children… we have to be aware of them and take notice.”
For information on CASA visit http://casaofcc.org.