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Guest column: Volunteering for kids in court brings rewards
GUEST COLUMN

Guest column: Volunteering for kids in court brings rewards

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From time to time, all of us need a humble reminder of the important things in life: our family and friends, a safe place to call home, the ability to pay the bills, and food on the table. My weekly reminder about what’s important comes when I volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate.

A year and a half ago, I retired and started looking for an organization where I could make a direct impact on a person’s life. I already was familiar with CASA, having been involved in the extensive efforts required to establish a CASA program in Columbia County. In addition, I had been a CASA volunteer some years ago before some life changes required me to step back from that role. I decided the time was right to get involved with this organization again.

CASA is a nonprofit organization that provides a voice for abused and neglected children who are under the legal protection of the court system. Children may be in the courts for any number of reasons, but the situation they’re in is not their fault. A CASA child may find themselves in foster care or living with a relative other than their mom or dad while a judge decides what happens next in the life of the child.

CASA child advocates are specially trained and appointed by the court to serve as the eyes, ears and voice for a child or family of children until the end of their court proceedings. Volunteers form a relationship with their CASA kids by spending about an hour a week with them to get to know their thoughts and feelings about the situation they’re in and report this information back to the judge and social worker. Providing the child’s perspective helps the judge in their decision-making about the case.

After considering whether to volunteer my time as a member of the board of directors with our local CASA program or as a CASA volunteer with a child, I decided to apply to be a child advocate. I contacted my local program’s volunteer coordinator and completed the application process. Anyone can apply if you are at least 21 years old, hold a valid driver’s license and have a sincere desire to help children.

Following a background check and initial interview, I participated in training. The training process was a combination of classroom and online learning, which was convenient because the in-person training was at a time that worked for me. CASA staff guide volunteers on how to be an advocate and help us learn about various topics like trauma, the child welfare system, child development, poverty, professional communication and cultural competence, as well as other things that help us in our volunteer role.

Once I completed training and was appointed by a judge, I was assigned to the child for whom I would advocate. I was nervous at first about how I would interact with the child, especially since the child to whom I was assigned was a young, preverbal child, but after spending a short time playing together, we were both comfortable with each other.

While I can’t share with you details about the child for whom I advocate due to confidentiality concerns, I can share this: In many ways, these children are like most children you know. They have varied interests and may love school or sports or reading, they respond to people who are interested in and care about them, and most of them love their parents.

I truly enjoy our weekly visits and I think the child I meet with does too. He is always eager to share his toys with me and loves to look at books while snuggling on my lap. CASA volunteers who have older, verbal children might talk with the child about school, homework, their friends and the situation the child is in. I’ve learned that one thing about the children, regardless of their age, is they often are stronger than most of us think.

CASA kids may not have continuity in their lives and may be away from family, friends and things that are familiar to them. I’m glad that I can be a consistent presence in the child’s life and represent his needs. I only wish that every child in the court system could get the same type of advocacy.

Being a CASA volunteer is one of the most satisfying volunteer experiences I have ever experienced. I hope you’ll consider becoming a volunteer. A number of people worked hard to establish a CASA program in Columbia County and continue to work to keep it going. We are fortunate to have such a program in our county.

Patti Herman is a Columbia County Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteer. To learn more about CASA or volunteer, contact Columbia County CASA at 608-745-9977 or email info@columbiacountycasa.org.

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