Susan Cairy is the volunteer program coordinator for the Spokane County Juvenile Court, and she’s looking for a few good people who would like to become Court Appointed Special Advocates.
CASA, as the program is known, also appropriately means “home” in Spanish. Many of the juvenile court cases deal with finding permanent homes for children who have been neglected, removed from their biological homes or whose parents have abandoned them.
Volunteers represent the best interests of the child in court.
Cairy said referrals from Child Protective Services are “through the roof” at the same time as she’s worried the program may lose some of its state funding. Since May 2012, the number of referrals each month has risen from 30 to 50.
“The only thing we can attribute it to is the economy. People are worried about losing their homes and cars and jobs and stress comes out in some pretty terrible ways for some children,” Cairy said.
Children represented by CASA volunteers are younger than 17, but Cairy said most of the cases involve children younger than 6.
“Most have been removed from their biological home,” Cairy said. “The state has an attorney, the parent has an attorney and the child has a CASA volunteer.”
There are 130-140 active volunteers right now, but Cairy said she could easily keep twice that number busy. Volunteers must be 21 years old and attend 30 hours of training, pass a criminal and child protective services background check, have a valid driver’s license and carry liability insurance on their car.
“Everyone who goes through training gets one case to start with and is expected to see it through until the end,” Cairy said. Volunteers get to choose the age of the child or sibling group they work with, she said.
Good verbal and written skills are especially important because CASA volunteers speak in court and fill out reports as long as their case is active.
The next training session begins Sept. 10.
“There’s no need to wait until then – please just call me right now,” Cairy said. “I will get the information to you right away and we will be ready to go by September.”