CASA is looking for Poinsett County volunteers

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

[Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part article on CASA volunteers.]

Last year there were 80 children in foster care in Poinsett County. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) recruits and trains volunteers to investigate child abuse and neglect cases and serve as advocates for these children in court. CASA was able to serve 124 of the 635 foster children in the 2nd Judicial District, which includes Clay, Craighead, Greene, Mississippi, and Poinsett counties. Five of those children served were in Poinsett County. CASA is in need of more volunteers to help better serve in Poinsett County.

CASA was formed in 1977 after Seattle Superior Court Judge David Soukup saw a need for child avocacy. At the time, there were only advocates for animal abuse cases. CASA came to Arkansas in 1995.

Tracy Davis has been Advocate Coordinator for Craighead county for about a year and half. Last July, she was assigned Poinsett County. Davis said an attorney in Poinsett County recently asked for advocates for two cases and no one was available, so she is trying focus on getting more recruits here.

"CASA becomes involved when children are placed in the foster care system," Davis said. "We investigate and report back to the judge via court report."

Advocates volunteer 10-15 hours a month. Advocates give testimony about the progress of children, advise the court if the DHS (Department of Human Services) case plan is being followed and if children are receiving services. They visit their assigned children in foster homes, observe supervised visits between the children and their family, talk to school administrators, doctors, and therapists and make recommendations to the court based on their findings.

Davis said advocates must be 21 and available 10-15 hours a month. The schedule is flexible except for court dates. Typically, a case goes back to court three times in a year. "It won't take lots of time. I've had people who work full-time and are advocates tell me they could have started this ten years ago if they had known." Davis said people who have volunteered for CASA come from all walks of life from full-time workers to college students to retired people.

Becoming and advocate means becoming an officer of the court. Advocates handle one case at a time and remain assigned to the children in the case until they reach permanency, whether that means reuniting with their family or adoption. Cases typically last 12-18 months. During that time, however, few things remain constant for the children involved, from foster homes to doctors to schools. "Foster homes change. We want CASA to be the one constant," Davis said.

For more information on becoming an advocate, contact Advocate Recruiter/Trainer Barbara McMorries at 870-935-1099. For more information on CASA, visit casaforchildren.org, arkansascasa.org, or neacasa.org.

Next week's article will focus on an advocate who works with Poinsett County children.

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