Special people work behind the scenes for children | NevadaAppeal.com

Special people work behind the scenes for children

by Barry Ginter

Among the saddest things that appear in the paper are the mugshots of people arrested for drug offenses. Any promise and hope they may have had has pretty much been eliminated by their poor decisions and the addictions that enslave them.

It’s sadder still to think that some of those people have children. Those kids have done nothing to deserve the situations they find themselves in. They’ve seen things that would shock most adults.

When their parents are arrested, many of those kids end up in state custody if there are no suitable relatives who can care for them. That’s probably already a better life for many of them, but the turmoil is far from over.

Because there’s a scarcity of foster homes, they’re often uprooted from their schools and friends and shipped out of town while their cases are heard. And remember, that’s after being ripped out of their families that, while dysfunctional, were the closest thing they had to real homes.

When I was asked to serve on the board for a group called Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), I began paying closer attention to their stories, and it occurred to me how important it is for people to know these horrific things are happening right here in our neighborhoods. Dozens of neighborhoods.

They can’t be told in detail because of confidentiality laws, but suffice it to say that the stories are as heart-wrenching as anything you’ve ever read in the Appeal.

The children are assigned to state child-welfare workers, but it is no secret that the agency is overburdened with cases. Some employees are assigned dozens of children, and no matter how much someone cares about children, with those numbers, it’s hard for children to get the attention they need.

That’s where CASA volunteers come in. As I learned more about what they do, I commented to a board member that they remind me of special-forces soldiers. The public will never know what they do, but they’re often the difference between winning and losing. And winning for a child means getting them into a safe and caring permanent home.

In every case in which a child has been taken out of a home in Carson City, including the high-profile, front-page cases of the last few years, a CASA volunteer has been assigned to be their advocate.

CASA is given special access to the family and anyone who is involved in the children’s lives, including teachers and police officers. And, of course, that includes the child. CASAs examine documents that are closed to others as they build a case for what is best for the child, which is then presented to the court.

Many of those cases last more than two years. Sometimes the children end up back with the parents under strict conditions, which might include holding jobs, maintaining a stable household, and, of course, staying drug-free. For other children, adoption is the answer.

The bottom line, said Chris Bayer, CASA’s director, is that they always win for those children, no matter how much time it takes. Sometimes that’s more than two years.

As you can tell, this is the kind of volunteering that takes commitment. And, as you can imagine, it’s sometimes hard to find people to become CASAs.

“We barely get by,” said Bayer. “We need more.”

They’re looking for ordinary people over the age of 21 who are at a fairly stable place in their lives. You don’t need a college degree, and retirees are welcome.

At first, you don’t even need to make a commitment. Bayer is inviting anyone interested to show up at a training session on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Juvenile Court building, 1545 E. Fifth St. You can just show up, or call ahead at 882-6776. It’s a chance to learn if becoming a CASA is a commitment you are capable of making.

And, even if you decide you can not afford the time, you will learn some startling information about the darker side of Carson City.

“My feeling is people need to find out what happens to children, whether they become a volunteer or not,” Bayer said.

Like any type of volunteerism, the payoff is that you get to make a real, long-lasting difference in the life of a child.

Bayer said CASA of Carson City has 23 volunteers who are now working on 50 child-welfare cases. In the last 10 years, CASA volunteers have helped write happy endings to the stories of 304 children.

There’s another important meeting next week focused on child welfare. The Division of Child and Family Services will begin a community coalition drive to recruit foster and adoptive homes in Carson City. More of those homes are needed to keep Carson City children in Carson City after they’re removed from their abusive homes.

You’re invited to that meeting, too. It will be on Wednesday in the conference room of the State Library and Archives. If you can attend, RSVP to Tawyna Blair at 687-4943, ext. 262.

• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. Contact him at 881-1221 or bginter@nevadaappeal.com.