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CASA needs advocates to help kids in dire straits

They represent the voices of children who find themselves in dire situations.

In court, they speak for children of drug- and alcohol-addicted parents or children living in volatile living situations. They are court-appointed special advocates, or CASA volunteers, and their program serves about 1,000 kids in the county.

But with only 350 active volunteers, there is a great need to serve even more children.

CASA will recruit volunteers at an open house Friday (Dec. 28) in Seattle, hosted by the King County Superior Court, Family Law CASA and Washington State CASA. If accepted to the program, new volunteers will get training on Jan. 18, also in Seattle.

There are about 250 kids who need CASA volunteers in the county, said Lisa Petersen. She is a program manager for the King County Superior Court CASA Dependency Program.

That program serves juvenile court cases where Child Protective Services has removed a child from a family based on abuse or neglect. Family Law CASA serves about 140 to 150 kids a year in divorce, paternity, or non-parental custody cases and is a non-profit sister organization.

Dependency cases can run about a year to two years, while Family Law cases last about a year or less.

“It’s really important to us,” Petersen said of increasing volunteers. “Specifically, we are recruiting for diversity because we really want to make sure the volunteers reflect the children we serve.”

While 24 percent of the children CASA serves are African American, only about 9 percent of their volunteers are also African American.

Gwen Dupree, a CASA Dependency volunteer for about seven years, agrees that being of the same racial and cultural background does help family members identify with volunteers during difficult times. But, she’s heard lots of stories where someone of a different race helped people get back on track too.

“It’s always good to bring something to the table that might be the key for this particular family,” said Dupree.

Retired from the Kent School District having served as a principal and the assistant superintendent, Dupree found a natural fit volunteering for CASA.

As a volunteer, she spends her time communicating with the children and parents in her cases, relatives, attorneys, social workers, medical providers, school staff and any other significant players.

Family Law volunteers are slightly different, not meeting with the children involved in the cases as much.

The amount of time spent on each case varies on the makeup of the family, Dupree said.

As information is collected by volunteers, it is reported to a judge.

Initially it can require a lot of time and it’s hard work, Dupree said, but she enjoys it.

“The more you get into it and see the need, and there is such a high need in the CASA program for volunteers, you help out,” she said.

Dupree calls the CASA supervisors “excellent” for bouncing ideas off of and providing support.

Volunteers are needed from many diverse groups and all walks of life.

About 5 percent of the children in the CASA Dependency program have Latin heritage, while only 2 percent of the volunteers are also from the same background. Also, 4 percent of the children are Asian, yet only 1 percent of the volunteers are Asian.

“You have to step up and make your donations and let them fall where they may,” said volunteer Bud Ray. “Somebody will benefit from your efforts.”

Ray has been a CASA volunteer for 16 years, along with his wife Jean, who is a long-time volunteer. He feels that racism and bigotry based on race and religion or the fact that people are poor, play a lot into people’s circumstances.

“I grew up in a black environment and I know and can understand what that feels like,” he said. “What bothers me the most is that there aren’t that many black people in the program.”

Ray comes from a military background and is retired from Equal Employment Opportunity Commission work. He has seen the results when kids get abused and wind up in the military, he said.

“To see a kid grow up without a lot of handicaps, without a lot of stuff put on them,” that’s the most rewarding aspect of the program, he said.

“This is definitely the way to go if you’re really going to go out there and make a difference,” Ray said.

 

Recruiting for CASA

The CASA Recruitment Party is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Dec. 28 at the 2100 Building, 2100 24th Ave. S. in Seattle. For information on the Dependency CASA program, visit http://www.kingcounty.gov/courts/JuvenileCourt/depcasa.aspx. For information on Family Law CASA, a non-profit group, visit www.familylaw.casa.org. Volunteer applications are available online.


 

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