DURANT — These volunteers assist the local court with helping abused and neglected children who have ended up in the court system through no fault of their own.
Bryan County CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — have been the “eyes and ears” of the court since 1986, when a local chapter began. Their responsibilities include investigating the circumstances surrounding the case, making an independent evaluation of what is in the child’s best interest, both immediately and in the long term, and monitoring the case until a permanent plan is approved by the court.
CASA’s mission is advocating for the best interest of abused and neglected children within the court system, based on the belief that every child is entitled to a safe and permanent home,
Trained volunteers work in collaboration with key agencies, legal counsel and community resources to serve as the child's advocate and represent the child in juvenile court.
CASA is one of 14 agencies that receive funding from Bryan County United Way.
United Way kicked off its fundraising drive last month and seeks to raise $150,000 in 2010. Money raised by United Way benefits 14 local agencies and 99-percent of the money stays in Bryan County.
Carolyn Thompson, volunteer coordinator for CASA, said UW funds helps CASA recruit and train volunteers.
Specifically, UW funds pay for the costs of fliers to promote CASA and training materials needed by volunteers.
CASA volunteers must have 30 hours of training and 10 hours of courtroom observation.
“If we need fliers and training material that helps us recruit and train, they fund it for us,” Thompson said.
“We can come up with copy paper and pencils and pay our electric bill, but when it comes down to having to produce posters and fliers we hand out, United Way provides all of that. We certainly try to let United Way know we couldn’t do it without them, that’s for sure.”
CASA presently has 27 volunteers although Thompson said not all of them are currently active. Higher gasoline prices and the economic conditions have resulted in fewer active volunteers. More women have been going back to work and some people have had to take second jobs.
CASA volunteers are only allowed to handle two cases at a time, and as of Sept. 10, there had been 67 new cases filed this year, according to Thompson. There are many abused and neglected children in the county who need help from CASA volunteers.
“We need more volunteers,” Thompson said. “We have had to turn several cases back because we can’t stay on them. It just broke my heart to turn those cases back to the court, but we just couldn’t take them last month.
The agency says that by spending as little as one hour per week, a volunteer can make a difference in a child’s life.
According to CASA:
— Volunteers help shorten the time a child spends in foster care
— Children with a CASA volunteer are less likely to re-enter the child welfare system once their case is closed
— Volunteers help children and their families receive the services they need
— CASA has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as a model juvenile delinquency prevention program
For more information, call 924-6164 or visit www.bryancountycasa.com.