Casa provides voice for children in court
Sky-Hi News/ Grand County, Colo
One Grand County agency is looking for a few good men and women, but the only fighting these volunteers will have to do is on behalf of children in the court system.
Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, is taking applications until May 28 for its current recruiting round.
“It’s kind of a big commitment, because the cases can go from a year to a year and a half,” said Kimberly Wilson, CASA program coordinator. “The CASA, we hope, is the one person that doesn’t change for that child throughout the case.”
She said CASA officials in Grand County hope to get about three to five more volunteers to train and have available for cases.
Volunteers go through about 32 hours of training, including two hours of courtroom observation, must fill out a detailed questionnaire, interview, and undergo a background check before they are eligible to be assigned to a case.
After that, they are asked to attend a monthly meeting and commit about one hour per week to the task of representing their child or children and a total of about 10 hours per month.
The primary function of the volunteers, said Wilson, is to talk to those involved in the case, observe and write a report for the judge’s review prior to the case going to trial. They do not give legal or psychological advice, legally represent the children in court or act like big brothers or sisters to children in the cases.
“It’s difficult, but in the end it’s rewarding,” said CASA volunteer Derrick Howard. “It does take some patience and diplomacy and genuine concern for the child.”
“These kids need somebody to be able to talk to,” said volunteer Sarah Bailey who, like Howard, has been a CASA volunteer for longer than a year.
“I’ve always wanted to help people and help children,” she said. “This is what I could do to help kids in need.”
“I think it was a sense of compassion,” Howard said of his desire to become involved. “I think most people are motivated by a child who’s in a difficult situation.”
Wilson said every effort is made to make the best match between children and advocates based on a variety of factors, sometimes including the fact that in this relatively small community they may know each other.
“There’s kind of a learning curve,” Howard said, and “every situation is a little different,” but so far his experiences have been positive.
Bailey said she was surprised to learn how many children need assistance with the court system and that it “definitely” has been rewarding.
She said that’s especially so when the children can relay messages to the judge through her about often difficult aspects of cases.
“I can be a voice for them in the courtroom,” she said. “They don’t have to be in the courtroom to be heard.”
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