The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 12, 2013

CASA looking to train more volunteers

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Associated Press

ENID, Okla. — The Fourth Judicial District Court Appointed Special Advocates program will begin a new training session next week and still needs volunteers.

Garfield County Child Advocacy Center Executive Director Carole Wade said CASA volunteers are needed to be the “eyes and ears” for the courts handling cases of deprived children.

“It’s a totally volunteer program, and I think that’s what makes it really unique,” she said. “They’re looking at deprived children cases through the eyes of common sense and some good training.”

Wade said once advocates complete 40 hours of training, they are assigned cases.

“They actually become the eyes and ears of the court and advocates for the best interest of the child, not necessarily what the child wants, to keep that child safe,” she said.

The training, Wade said, teaches volunteers to keep their objectivity and focus on the needs of the children in the cases they’re assigned.

CASA programs operate in Garfield and Major counties.

Major County resident Norma Woods has been a CASA for about five years and travels to Enid to volunteer.

“We’re appointed by the court to look after a child, or children, in foster homes, and see that they are safe and well cared for,” she said. “I have found it very rewarding.”

Woods said the work is strictly confidential, and she feels like she is another set of eyes and ears looking out for the welfare of the children.

“DHS is overworked. We are a person that kind of stays with the case from the beginning to the end,” she said. “A lot of times, these children change foster homes, the DHS worker quits. We as CASA members, unless something happens, we stay with the case.”

Woods said judges call upon the CASAs for information about the case to make the best decisions.

“We get to speak. We are strictly information gatherers,” she said. “We do not make decisions. We just strictly gather information. We are observers.”

Those who volunteer need to be passionate about children.

“You have to care about the children and that’s who you’re there for,” she said. “It’s not the children that messed up, it’s the parents.

“It’s rewarding for me and I think most CASAs would say that. I feel like it’s important.”

Following an interview and a background investigation, volunteers will be trained in family dynamics, needs of children, cultural issues, juvenile law, interview skills and court procedures, as well as other topics. Upon completion of the training, volunteers will be prepared to make recommendations to the court concerning the best interests of a child.

The training sessions start Feb. 21, with classes meeting for three hours each Thursday evening through May 7. Classes are held at the Garfield County CARE Campus, 1002 E. Broadway, in Enid.

Adults 21 or older who have a desire and the time to help abused or neglected children can call the CASA office, (580) 242-1153 or (877) 242-1153, for an application.