On Nov. 16, Columbia County Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children hosted an office open house and ribbon cutting for the revitalization of the CASA program in Columbia County. Located in Cochrane Court, CASA is a nonprofit organization that provides a voice for abused and neglected children who are under the legal protection of the court system serving all of Columbia County.
Attendees included representatives of the Portage Chamber of Commerce, former and future volunteers, local elected officials, board members, and others from the community who wanted to learn more about CASA.
A small program included comments from CASA Executive Director Darryl Teske, Judge Andrew Voigt, former Administrator of the Columbia County Division of Children and Families and CASA Board Member Kathleen Koenecke, and current Children and Families Administrator Katie Day.
Teske spoke about the impact that one volunteer can have on the life of the child, “at the heart of the matter it isn’t about abuse or neglect, it isn’t about an overburdened or broken system. It is about the inalienable right of a child to grow and learn, to be respected and treated with dignity. CASA volunteers are a force to fight for these rights.” Teske encouraged those in attendance to speak with former volunteers about the difference they made in a child’s life and the impact the program had on them.
Teske also cited the National CASA research that shows a child with a CASA is more likely to find a safe permanent home, get more help while in the system, and be more likely to succeed in school than a child in the system without a CASA. In addition, children with a CASA are less likely to be bounced from home to home and spend less time overall in foster care. “All of this from a positive, consistent, responsible adult presence in the life of the child,” Teske said.
Koenecke spoke about the history of CASA in Columbia County noting various successes from 1998 until the program was ended in 2013 due to funding issues. As a board member, she expressed her excitement to get the program restarted and focus on sustainability moving forward.
Division of Children and Families Administrator Katie Day spoke about the current needs in the county. Day stated, “As of the end of October of this year, Columbia County had 34 children formally placed in out-of-home care through the court system.” She also shared stories from social workers about their experience with the previous CASA program, stressing that “the CASA program and its volunteers have been invaluable to the Division of Children & Families Child Protective Services team.” Day concluded, “CASA volunteers truly make a difference and I am thrilled to have the program back up and running in Columbia County.”
Judge Voigt also spoke about his experience with the CASA program as a former Guardian ad Litem in the county. Praising the program and emphasizing that this program is not saying that the courts or the county are not doing enough for the child, but rather this is “an additional set of eyes and ears for the court and the voice that comes with them to advocate for the best interest of the child.”
Board member Bill Tierney provided a final thought reminding all in attendance that although the office is located in Portage, the program serves all of Columbia County. “In order to make this program a success, we need voices from Columbus, Lodi, Poynette, Pardeeville, and all throughout the county. We are actively seeking board members from areas outside of Portage to provide their voice, time, and talents to this important organization.” Tierney concluded, “If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about serving on the board please get in touch with us.”