By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
A Canadian County program is seeking volunteers to stand up and speak for children in state custody.
People who live and work in Canadian County are being asked to commit six to 10 hours per month as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
“This is the best non-paid work anybody will ever do,” Canadian County CASA advocate supervisor April Price said.
Appointed by judges, trained CASA volunteers work with children who have suffered abuse and neglect that occurred in their homes.
The volunteer’s role is to investigate, advocate, monitor, and report to the court.
They are the “eyes and ears” of the child in the courtroom, according to Price.
“They are there to build that relationship with the child,” Price said.
CASA volunteers often enjoy interacting with the children in social settings. Each volunteer is required to see their CASA child at least once a month.
By volunteering to be a child’s advocate, a CASA volunteer helps bring positive change to the lives of vulnerable children in foster care awaiting new homes.
“It is good for the heart,” Price said of CASA volunteers. “You feel like you’re making a difference in a child’s life. It is rewarding.
“It is important knowing that child’s voice is heard. A lot of times in these cases, people don’t take into account what they want.”
These children in state custody typically have been “shuffled around” homes while their Department of Human Services (DHS) workers, counselors and teachers frequently change.
“That CASA volunteer is the one person who stays on the case the entire time,” Price said.
Today, 60 percent of children in the foster care and child welfare system have no access to a CASA volunteer.
30 HOURS OF TRAINING
After completing an initial 30-hour training, each CASA volunteer is expected to spend six to 10 hours a month advocating for a child in state custody. They will appear in court every 60 to 90 days and must make regular reports to court officials.
Canadian County CASA now has about 40 volunteers for 300 children. More help is sorely needed, especially in Piedmont and Union City.
“We definitely need more men,” Price said.
Prospective volunteers, who must be at least 21 years old, are heavily screened to ensure they are appropriate for the CASA program.
The 30-hour training includes 20 hours of independent study, four hours of courtroom observation and six hours of classroom instruction on child abuse/neglect and how to prepare court reports.
Canadian County CASA will work around the volunteer’s schedule to make sure training is available.
“Full-time workers can train on weekends and evenings,” Price said. “There is no time frame to complete the training.”
Once the initial training is complete, new volunteers can choose cases that are a “good fit.”
The program has a wide range of volunteers who serve, including couples and many single parents. One advocate has four CASA children under 9 years.
Price and her husband have been foster parents for seven years. She joined Canadian County CASA in April.
“My main focus is recruitment right now,” Price said.
The program is housed at the Canadian County Children’s Justice Center, 7905 E Hwy 66 in El Reno.
Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a Canadian County CASA volunteer should contact Price at 264-5508 or firstname.lastname@example.org