First Christian Funds Training for Child Advocates
by Rick Tipton
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of the River Region’s mission is to support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children. CASA children have lived in unsafe homes that failed to provide adequate food, clothing, healthcare, or supervision. Approximately half of CASA children have spent extended lengths of time in out-of-home care and have endured multiple placements. CASA fulfils this mission by recruiting everyday volunteers and training them to advocate for the best interests and overall well-being of children — a safe, permanent home, academic success, and medical services.
First Christian Church was excited to partner with CASA of the River Region for the first time in 2021. The funds requested will be used to support the recruitment and training of potential CASAs. Potential CASAs are personally interviewed and must pass multiple background checks. They then complete a 5-week extensive training course in advocacy techniques and on the child welfare system, trauma, education, and physical and mental health. This training, combined with the recruitment process and pairing the newly trained CASA with a case, costs approximately $1,000 per individual. Cases average 3 children each and last an average of 3+ years.
Trained volunteer advocates (CASAs) ensure children have at least one consistent adult who will support them throughout their case, despite the number of home placements and the length of their case. CASAs visit children weekly; attend court; interview support systems; recommend medical, educational and placement services; and ensure parents/guardians comply with court mandates. CASAs guarantee children are receiving medical care, academic support and other services needed to overcome trauma and improve overall well-being. CASAs: (1) Support young children’s development; (2) Enable school-aged children to succeed; (3) Help older youth prepare for independence; (4) Help break generational cycles of abuse, neglect, and failure; (5) And make a life-changing difference for children who have experienced abuse and/or neglect. CASA provides its advocacy services free of charge and must fundraise its annual operating budget.
To ensure that abused and neglected children receive the services they needed to overcome trauma, the national CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) model of training everyday citizens to be court advocates was brought to Kentucky. In 1984, the National Council of Jewish Women (Louisville), Jefferson District Judges and the Jefferson County Child Abuse Authority organized and incorporated the CASA Project of Jefferson County. In 2007, CASA of Jefferson County expanded into Henry, Oldham, and Trimble Counties; the program was renamed CASA of the River Region to reflect its multi-county presence. In 2008, CASA expanded into Shelby and Spencer Counties. Since its founding, CASA of the River Region has served tens of thousands of the most vulnerable children in our community.
The Director of LMPD’s Victims Services Unit recently stated, “Away from the eyes and ears of caring school officials trained to sense tell-tale signs, disconnected from friends they may trust with a secret, advocates and investigators worry that crimes against children have gone unreported. I anticipate that once children are in their element, they’re going to have a safe space to report in, and unfortunately there will be something to report."
Teachers, counselors, coaches, and other parents are traditional reporters of abuse. As children return to normal activities, more trusted adults will be able to see children in-person and report any suspected neglect and/or abuse. CASA must be prepared for the expected surge in cases. Recruitment and training are year-round activities and are crucial to CASA’s mission. CASA’s Community Engagement Manager (Leah Nord) is responsible for connecting CASA with the community and recruiting potential volunteer advocates (CASAs). This will include bi-monthly CASA 101 informational sessions, monthly presentations to faith-based and business/civic groups and individual conversations and meetings. CASA’s Training Manager (Lydia Deegan) will oversee five/six pre-service training sessions (dependent upon number of interested potential CASAs).
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