In neglect and abuse cases involving children, a vital role is played by a group of volunteers known as CASAs.
King County Executive Dow Constantine recently visited some of the employees and volunteers from the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in Kent to learn more, and thank them for their care and support of children going through traumatic times.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a trained volunteer who represents the best interests of children up to 11 years old who have allegedly been abused and/or neglected as they are taken through the legal process. They are a voice for children.
“If you care about children and want to make a difference, you can do that here,” CASA volunteer Pamela Beatty told the Executive.
CASA volunteers focus on the best interests of the child. They investigate cases, talking with the child, parents, family members, social worker, school personnel, health care providers, foster parents and others. They prepare periodic reports to the court on their findings and recommendations. And they recommend temporary and permanent plans for the child.
Joe McGovern, also a CASA volunteer, told the Executive that in his opinion, the CASA program is the best volunteer opportunity available.
“You’re dealing with issues that can really affect people’s lives, kids’ lives, parents’ lives,” McGovern said. “The stories that you have to deal with are incredible. Some of them are depressing. A lot of them are very uplifting. I’ve had more positive outcomes in my cases than negatives, so it’s the supreme volunteer opportunity.”
CASA volunteer Jacqui Hammond first got involved with CASA when she and her husband adopted two kids out of the foster care system, and got to see how the system worked as a foster parent.
“We had two biological kids and we were interested in adoption, so we looked internationally and then found out about kids in foster care here,” Hammond said. “We were presented with a brother and sister, four-and-a-half and 18 months, and we fostered them for two years, and eventually their parents relinquished them to us.”
When her kids entered school full-time, Hammond decided to become a CASA volunteer. That was six years ago.
“It’s an absolute honor for me to be involved with children who are going through such tragedy, she said. “I love what I do.”
The Executive spoke with CASA employees and volunteers about ways to prevent crises in children’s lives, by investing in healthy children and communities through his proposed Best Starts for Kids levy.
“You have all seen the results of neglect in a child’s earliest years, so you can testify to the fact that while we’re spending vast sums on crime and punishment and treatment of severe mental illness and addiction, we can justify spending a much smaller amount on things that can make a real difference in people’s lives,” Executive Constantine said. “I’ve set out on a mission to visit every school district in the County to dig into the challenges that teachers are facing, how they are addressing kids that are getting into trouble or arriving not ready to learn. They all recognize that their jobs would be much easier and better if we figured out a way to make sure that the time before they first meet these kids is a successful time.”
Hammond supported the Executive’s efforts to address issues in a child’s formative years before they become bigger issues.
“The older child that I adopted did not have any type of education whatsoever, only a very short time in preschool, and now she’s in her first year of high school, she’s in special ed, she’s behind,” Hammond said. “She’s a smart little girl who experienced traumatic things early on in her life.”
To find out more about becoming a CASA volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an application packet.