By JOHN P. EVANS III
The Caroline County CASA organization is in need of volunteers. Desperately. Now.
“We have only three volunteer advocates, which is the fewest we have ever had,” said CASA of Caroline County Executive Director Carol Parks. “The need for advocates for county children in need is desperate.”
Parks, who joined CASA in 2014 after 33 years working in social services in Dorchester County, said there are two big reasons that the number of volunteers are down in Caroline County.
First, she said, a lot of the former advocates have taken a “time out” after completing their most recent relationship, or have decided not to continue with the program. The second factor, she added, is that a lot of volunteers who normally might have worked with Caroline County kids, are now volunteering with Mid-Shore CASA.
“The difference between Caroline CASA and Mid-Shore CASA is that we serve only Caroline County children, while Mid-Shore services several counties: Talbot, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Kent County,” said Parks.
“A lot of people from other counties who might have volunteered in Caroline County are now volunteering with Mid-Shore CASA, which has hurt us,” she added.
Parks said that currently there are 10 children waiting for CASA advocates in Caroline County.
Volunteers take a 40-hour course that teaches them what being an advocate involves and that prepares them for the role they will be playing.
Among the aspects of CASA that people need to know are that Court Appointed Special Advocates are appointed by a judge to provide the court with background information to aid in making decisions in the best interests of abused and neglected children. The advocate’s goal is to ensure that children are placed in safe, permanent homes in a timely manner and receive all appropriate services while under the court’s jurisdiction.
An advocate reviews records, really gets to know the child in need in order to best speak on their behalf, and talks to key individuals in the child’s life (teachers, therapists, foster parents, etc.), to determine what is in the child’s best interest. The advocate shares this information with the child’s social worker and attorney, and then submits a detailed report to the Court with recommendations for the child.
The advocate acts in the child’s best interest rather than the child’s wishes. CASA volunteers also advocate for the child’s needs in other areas of life, ensuring he/she is receiving needed educational, mental health, medical and social/recreational services.
“The advocate plays a very important role in the child’s life,” said Parks.
Understandably, persons wishing to volunteer with CASA are thoroughly screened and trained, and are supervised by professional staff members. They must be at least 21 years of age.
It is also important to note that a CASA advocate is not a social worker, an attorney, a therapist, a Big Brother or Big Sister, or a foster parent for the child. It is also important to realize that CASA is a non-profit and its work is dependent upon having enough volunteers to take care of the children in need. Because of the nature of the work, most advocates assist only one child at a time.
“Children are removed from the home by social services due to abuse or neglect, then social services works with the court to get the child placed in a foster home,” Parks said.
When a child is removed from their parents’ home there is usually a lengthy court process, which is often scary and confusing for the child. A CASA advocate can provide stability in the child’s life during this difficult time.
Since its founding in 2004, CASA of Caroline has sworn in 78 advocates. In 2014, a total of 22 persons served as advocates. Parks said she hopes to start a training session as soon as she has enough people who are interested in being advocates.
“The commitment of time varies with each case, but our volunteers have told me that the good personal feeling they get from volunteering far outweighs the time invested.” Parks said.
To contact CASA of Caroline, you can call 410-479-8301.