CASA offers ‘voice’ for vulnerable children

County Commissioners OK $25K annual allocation; more volunteers sought as need rises

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Volunteers meet for a recent CASA training session via the Zoom video conferencing app. (Photo provided)

By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer

EL RENO – An annual contract renewal approved this week helps benefit vulnerable Canadian County children who need a voice in the juvenile court system.

Canadian County Commissioners, at their weekly meeting May 26, approved a fiscal year 2021 contract with Canadian County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program. The county has provided $25,000 annually for the past several years.

“We appreciate it so much,” Canadian County CASA executive director Dana Lutz told commissioners. “We appreciate everything you do for us. It is instrumental.”

The CASA program trains community volunteers to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children who are wards of the juvenile court. These children are virtually alone when they enter into the juvenile court and foster care system.

“In 2018, we served 85 children and then in 2019, we were able to serve 98 children,” Lutz said. “There are approximately 300 kids in custody right now and we’re serving a third of those.

“We’ve seen an increase this year. We’ve trained a lot more volunteers to really advocate for some foster kids. It’s sad, but because of COVID, we’re looking at seeing an increase in the children in custody.”

The $25,000 annual allocation provided by Canadian County Commissioners is “essential to help support those kids who are brought into custody as a result of this,” Lutz added.

SCREENED AND TRAINED

Prospective CASA volunteers are screened and trained before being appointed to a child or sibling group.

Through his or her court order, the CASA volunteer researches the case, talks to the child and involved parties and professionals, advocates for needed services and timely decisions, and submitted written recommendations to the court.

District 3 County Commissioner Jack Stewart was surprised that two-thirds of these abused and neglected children are not represented by CASA volunteers.

“We’re working on increasing awareness in the community,” Lutz replied. “It’s really helped with our new staff going to community events to raise awareness that we need volunteers, we really need people involved to advocate for these kids.

“Our goal is to serve all of them. Right now, we don’t have the volunteers to do that. We’re working on it, and we’re working hard.”

Canadian County CASA had 38 volunteers in 2018 and 51 volunteers in 2019.

Even during the COVID-19 crisis, the program has provided training for more volunteers. A large swearing-in ceremony for new CASA members is expected once in-person court hearings resume.

“We appreciate you being part of our community and the service you provide,” Canadian County Commission Chairman Marc Hader told CASA representatives. “We certainly appreciate those who are willing to take the time and feel the call of duty.”

Commissioner Stewart said he appreciated the commitment that CASA volunteers make to help Canadian County children.

Joining CASA is no simple task for anyone thinking of signing up.

“It’s a lot,” Lutz said, matter-of-factly. “It takes an emotional toll because you see kids go through the worst of the worst.”

Canadian County CASA Board Vice President Dawnetta Moore commended county commissioners for their willingness to back the CASA program.

“We’re trying to reach all of Canadian County to get more volunteers for children everywhere in our county,” Moore said.

Other Canadian County CASA board members are: Suzanne Grimes (president), Adam Meek (treasurer), Jennifer Parrett (secretary), Rick Cacini, Lyndle Smith, C.H. Wyatt, Lynn Groves, and Lindsay Harmon.

Advocate supervisors are April Price and Erin Matejka.

To learn more about Canadian County CASA, call 264-5508 visit canadiancountycasa.org

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ELECTRONIC KEY SYSTEM

In other business at their weekly meeting May 26, Canadian County Commissioners approved:
• Seeking bids for an electronic key storage system for the county sheriff’s office. This would provide an electronic tracking system for keys and other security equipment; everything is manual now. It would limit access to who can have keys inside the county jail.
• A prisoner public works program contract between the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and Canadian County District 1 for FY21. The program provides the county with inmate labor from the Union City Correctional Center.
• Claims authorizing the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to pay for services associated with an Arapaho Creek Bridge pipeline project in District 2 – $3,736.86 to Cimarron Surveying and $1,001.50 to Venables Construction.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Stewart announced that an ODOT contractor this weekend is due to repair a guardrail damaged last fall on the Alfadale Road bridge at Interstate 40.