KVSV

Child Abuse Prevention Month Part 4

 

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Child Abuse Prevention Month - #4

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Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)

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By Terry Bailey

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The CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) concept is based on the belief that every child has the right to a safe, permanent home. Unlike attorneys and social workers, the CASA volunteer speaks exclusively for the child’s best interests.

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By handling only one or two cases at a time (compared to a social agency caseworker’s average load of 60 – 90), the CASA volunteer has the time to explore thoroughly the history of each assigned case. The volunteer talks with the child, parents, family members, neighbors, school officials, doctors and others involved in the child’s life that may have facts about the case.

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The volunteer also reviews all records and documents pertaining to the child. He or she then submits a formal report to the court, recommending placement: should the child stay with his or her parents, be placed in foster care, or be freed for permanent adoption? If the court leaves the child in temporary care, the CASA volunteer provides continuity by staying on the case until it is permanently resolved. 

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Kansas is divided into thirty-one judicial districts of which twenty-three have established CASA programs. Most judicial districts include several counties. In 2016, the 23 CASA programs in Kansas supported and supervised 915 volunteers who advocated for 1,994 children. Those volunteers contributed over 60,000 hours of their time to children in need.

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Some of the children served by CASA volunteers are victims of abuse and violence; others have been neglected or abandoned by their parents. Many times, these children suffer from the lack of proper nutrition, emotional trauma, and lack of medical care and/or physical injuries. Some are victims of violence, psychological torment, or sexual abuse. These frightened and confused children often become victims of an overburdened child welfare system, which is a complex legal network of lawyers, social workers, and judges who frequently are too overburdened to give thorough, detailed attention to each child who comes before them.

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Every year in Kansas, over 4,000 children are placed in Child Protective Services, removed from their homes at no fault of their own. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for these abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system. They stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.

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For many abused children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence—the one adult who cares only for them. Kansas CASA and its 23 local programs are working hard to make sure that every child who needs an advocate to speak for his or her best interests before the courts, has a caring, trained adult to help them through this difficult period of his or her life.

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In 1977, a Seattle judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. The program has grown to a network of more than 951 CASA programs.

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The North Central Kansas CASA program has helped children in our area for 24 year. The program director, Carol Miller, has been with the program since its inception.

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Miller said, “Early on, it was obvious that with CASA volunteers, the children in the court system could be served much better and more thoroughly. Without them we would fall back to an overloaded and overworked system where children do not receive adequate representation.”

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Interested individuals wanting to check out the possibility of serving as a volunteer, receive one hour of training each week over a ten week period. Training is provided covering all the areas in which a volunteer must be able to do.”

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Miller said, “Our new volunteers are able to move into serving children slowly. They are guided and supervised all the way through the process. The supervisor slowly withdraws and gives the volunteer more and more responsibility.”

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NCK CASA currently has 23 volunteer workers. Generally, one worker handles only one case at a time. And, YES, there is always a need for volunteers. Should someone have interest in finding out more about the duties and expectations of a CASA volunteer, they are encouraged to contact the NCK CASA office in Concordia.

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It is the ultimate goal that every child in Kansas should have a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible after entering the court system as a child in need of care and should be safe while under the jurisdiction of the court.

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Wrapping up this look at child abuse, Miller was asked what should people do if they suspect a child is being abused... She replied, “If you suspect that a child is being abused or treated poorly it is always best to report the situation. If it is reviewed and things are okay, nobody is hurt. On the other hand, if the child IS being abused, what is the consequence of your silence?”

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