Lake Country CASA caseload continues to swell
Number of abused, neglected children served this year already eclipses 2004 count; more volunteers needed
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

State District Judge Scott McDowell swears in Deanna Pullen as a Court Appointed Special Advocate who will volunteer her time to look out for the interests of abused and neglected children. The number of children removed from homes in Hopkins, Rains, Franklin and Titus counties due to abuse or neglect continues to increase, as does the need for volunteers. To better accommodate volunteers’ schedules, Lake Country CASA is offering an independent training program.
Photo Courtesy of Lake Country CASA

Oct. 27, 2005 -- Lake Country Court Appointed Special Advocates for children recently received recognition for its high standards of work on behalf of abused and neglected children.

The program received top marks and certification by the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association following an audit which showed Lake County CASA to be 100 percent in compliance with National CASA’s high standards for quality child advocacy.

�The National CASA quality assurance program is very rigorous, and reflects our commitment to ensure every child we serve has the most powerful volunteer advocate working on their behalf,� Michael Piraino, chief executive officer for the National CASA Association, stated. � This certification says Lake Country CASA has demonstrated to us a strong capacity to provide excellent services to the abused and neglected children within their community.�

Lake Country CASA has been in operation since 1990, initially only representing 20-30 children a year, mostly older children. Each year CASA’s case load has grown, along with age range (from birth to late teens) of the abused or neglected children removed from their homes.

While the number of children needing assistance grows, so does the need for more CASA workers. That need is greater now more than ever since the case load as of October is already greater than the total served last year, and there are still two months left in the year, according to Lake Country CASA Executive Director Gina Law.

Last year, CASA served 158 children in four counties, including 80 from Hopkins County. As of this month, Lake County CASA had a case load of 172 children, with 74 of those from Hopkins County.

That’s why LCCASA is now offering a program by which anyone interested in dedicating their spare time to volunteer as a child advocate can receive most of their basic training through a new independent study program. The volunteer will receive reading material pertaining to the duties of a CASA, with the time for meetings with representatives from LCCASA flexible according to the volunteer-in-training’s schedule. The person will have to put in a certain number of court observation hours, attend information workshop sessions with local attorneys, visit with CPS officials and work with other CASAs on cases until their training is complete. CASA volunteers also are allowed to choose from a number of in-service offerings conducted monthly to remain current on updates and information pertinent to their duties as a child advocate.

� We desperately need more volunteers due to the increase in volume. This helps those who want to volunteer but can�t do five hours for a certain number of days to get the training,� Law explained. �It also gives them more one-on-one attention and is more of a mentorship training on their own time on the reading.�

CASAs are volunteers who act as sworn officials of the court and “are the extra eyes and ears to the judge,” providing factual information on behalf of the child caught in the difficult legal process. They work with CPS by monitoring visitation between parents and children who have been removed from their homes.

CASA volunteers are assigned to the case from the time the child enters the system until the child’s situation comes to a resolution, whether it be through adoption or return to a rehabilitated home. CASA’s volunteers consist of individuals from “all walks of life.”

In addition to their passion for the children, Law classifies CASA volunteers as people who “instead of getting mad and blaming the system” -- which is already limited by regulations -- get involved in the process as advocates for those children.

Law noted that unlike some counties and CASAs, Lake Country CASA does not turn away any child in need of an advocate, regardless of how many cases the program already has. Anytime a child is removed by CPS from a home within the service area, a volunteer from Lake Country CASA is contacted to advocate for that child.

Anyone interested in becoming a CASA volunteer  can call Law at the CASA office at 903-885-1173.

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