DURANT - These volunteers will make a difference in the lives of children who need help.
Fourteen new volunteers have been sworn in who will assist abused children who have to deal with the court system.
Associate District Judge Rocky Powers swore in the Bryan County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Monday afternoon.
CASA volunteers are court-appointed citizens who help children through the court process. They work for the court and with attorneys and social workers.
“We're more or less information gatherers to help the judge make a better decision on a child going through the court system,” said Bryan County CASA Director Betty Colclazier. “It is their job to help the judge find these children a good home.
“These children ended up in the court system through no fault of their own. They're not juvenile delinquents. These children are all here because of something their parents have done.”
The advocates work with the children and gather information that will help the case, such as information on foster parents or relatives who can keep the children.
“Sometimes you have a situation where you want a neutral observer to give you an indication of what's best for the child,” said District Judge Mark Campbell. “They can be another set of eyes and ears to speak for a child who otherwise couldn't speak for themselves. They actually go out and visit homes, families, and do things first hand.”
Volunteers must undergo a background check and complete 30 hours of training.
“These people care about children,” Colclazier said. “They're volunteers ... they're just out there gathering information for the court system.”
Ten additional people will be sworn in. These will bring the total number of CASAs to 36, still not near enough. According to Colclazier, there are presently 376 children and 151 cases pending in the court system.
“Every child who is adjudicated as deprived through neglect or abuse is assigned to CASA,” Colclazier said.
CASA was formed in 1976 in Seattle, Wash. The program began in Bryan County on April 7, 1986, when then-Bryan County District Judge Joe Taylor appointed Colclazier to direct the program.
“Judge Taylor had read about it, and he asked me if I wanted to be a CASA,” Colclazier said. “I said, ‘Your honor, I don't even know what a CASA is.' He then said, ‘You're a mother aren't you? You're a grandmother aren't you? ... then that's what I'm looking for.'”
After the training, which includes seminars with authorities who handle court cases, the volunteers are sworn in. Volunteers are asked to commit for a year and handle up to three cases. The advocates work at least 10 hours per month on each case.
Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to call 924-6164.
“If you're just a caring person, have good morals, and don't have a criminal background, you can qualify as a CASA just by caring,” Colclazier said.