Of CASA & Kids
Agency charged with looking out for best interests of abused, neglected children sees its caseload expand ever larger
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Nov. 26, 2006 - We've all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. But Gina Law, executive director of Lake Country Court Appointed Special Advocates for children, and the many volunteers, contributors and various agencies she works with, know it's true.

"It's the community's responsibility to become more proactive in helping county-wide to ensure the future," said Law, who works with the organization overseeing the interests of more than 200 abused and neglected children. "We want all children to succeed in all they do, to make sure they have the same chance to succeed and the same opportunities as other children. They are entitled to love and education."

The continued efforts of family members, teachers, friends, CASA reps, child protective and law enforcement agencies, and court officials are required to successfully represent and look out for the best interests of the 205 children currently being served in the four-county area, which includes Hopkins, Franklin, Rains and Titus counties. That number includes 81 children from Hopkins County.

"That's more kids than ever before, up from about 140 four years ago," Law said earlier this week. "So we are in desperate need of volunteers because of the increasing numbers."

Lake Country CASA is currently training volunteers through its independent study program, which allows volunteers to get in the requisite number of training hours on a flexible schedule. Once a CASA worker is certified, he or she is appointed to represent a child in the court system separate from a Child Protective Services case worker.

"We have a good working relationship with CPS here," Law said, but added, "CPS can't do it all by themselves."

"So the judge appoints a CASA to represent and say what you think is the best for the child," Law explained. "We want to keep family units together. We work with the parents. It's unfortunate that sometimes they can't be together."

CASAs talk to the child's parents and other family members, teachers, doctors, and work with CPS and law enforcement to find the best option for that child's future. They gather information, note all that has happened to place the child in their system, and make recommendations as to how to help the child and what the child's needs are. A judge is not required to follow a CASA worker's recommendation, but it always weighs heavily in a court's decision.

Another way people can help is by becoming foster parents, going through the training and agreeing to host children who have been removed from their homes due to neglect, abuse or simply a lack of resources for the parents to take care of the child.

Like CASA training, certification to become a foster home is also available. To find out more about becoming a CASA volunteer or a foster parent, contact the Lake Country CASA office at 903-885-1173.

While not everyone has the time or is able to become a CASA volunteer or foster parent, anyone can help. One way is to be more aware of what constitutes child abuse, ways to prevent it, and report it.

"Be aware of what's going on," Law said. "If you see or suspect child abuse, report it."

Anyone who witnesses child abuse is required by law to report it. They can do so by calling the child abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400, Law said.

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