CASA's Kingman workload sparks call for volunteers

KINGMAN - There were 38 children removed from their homes due to allegations of abuse and/or neglect and "brought into care" in January, according to Luann Gardner, Court Appointed Special Advocate coordinator in Kingman. "That's 38 children in addition to the 286 already in care due to cases filed in 2013," said Gardner.

Gardner is responsible for recruiting and coordinating the efforts of 23 active volunteers who are currently assigned to juvenile dependency cases throughout Mohave County. "Most CASA volunteers have one or two cases, but several have up to five," said Gardner.

With the goal being "a CASA for every child," the program is desperate for volunteers. Gardner acknowledges that it can be a full-time job for volunteers working multiple cases.

CASA volunteers conduct case research, talking with Child Protective Services caseworkers, family members, school personnel and therapists. They may review medical files. They assess the facts of a case, identify areas of concern, and submit reports to the court.

Most importantly, a CASA gets to know the children they're assigned to speak on behalf of. They may visit children at home, in a foster home, at school, or at daycare. They may take children to the park, the library, or out for a meal. They seek feedback and make certain the child has a voice in the process. After all, the dependency process affects them most and a CASA volunteer is there to help make it better when things have gone terribly wrong.

Pat Alexander has been a CASA for three years and is currently assigned to two cases. Alexander says the most rewarding part of the process is helping children achieve permanency - a permanent home, rather than being bounced around between one or more biological parents, extended family members, and foster homes.

"It's extremely rewarding when you know that you've helped a child who doesn't have anyone else to count on for consistency and security. It can be a frustrating process working with different agencies ... caseworkers change, everyone involved in the case may change, but a CASA stays with the child throughout. When a little child takes you by the hand at daycare and says, 'This is my friend Miss Pat,' it's all worth it."

No specific knowledge is needed to become a CASA volunteer, just a desire to help children. Applicants must be at least 21 years of age. Volunteers are fingerprinted and must pass a background check and polygraph screen.

Once accepted, training is provided at no charge.

Learn more by calling Luann Gardner at (928) 753-0790 ext. 4229, or online at www.CASAofMohaveCounty.org.