CASA seeking volunteers to deal with abuse cases

KINGMAN - Child abuse and neglect are on the rise in Arizona and Mohave County and the Court Appointed Special Advocate program of Mohave County is calling on the community to act.

The CASA program is always seeking volunteers to work with children who have suffered from abuse or neglect.

In Mohave County, there are currently 365 cases involving 490 children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. The program has seen more cases already in 2014 than in all of 2013.

Currently, there are only 40 active volunteers advocating for these children in court. Ideally, they would have one volunteer per case.

"We're currently experiencing a drastic increase of cases in Mohave County, and we essentially have nobody to advocate for these children when they need it most," said Luann Gardner, CASA coordinator in Kingman.

"As a CASA, you literally have the opportunity to change a child's life forever. You can be the difference between that child languishing in foster care, or finding a permanent home where they can be healthy, happy and safe."

There is a direct link between domestic violence and child abuse, says Gardner. Domestic violence affects children significantly, invoking feelings of fear, anxiety, isolation and worthlessness.

CASA volunteers work with these children and help courts gather all the information involving a child's case and make formal recommendations to the court on the child's behalf. They are not mentors, but advocates to help the court system determine the best outcome for a child. They do this by meeting with teachers, counselors, physicians and guardians.

To become a CASA volunteer, a person must:

• Be 21 years of age or older.

• Go through a screening process, including interviews, reference checks, fingerprint check and polygraph exam.

• Commit to one case until its conclusion, usually involving 10-20 hours a month.

• Complete 30 hours of pre-service training.

For more information on becoming a CASA volunteer, or helping with CASA in any way, contact Gardner at (928)753-0790, ext. 4229, or visit www.casaofmohavecounty.org.

- Ryan Abella