Colorado CASA: A Powerful Voice in a Child's Life
by Lori Burkey
Executive Director, Colorado CASA
For fortunate families, home is where we feel safe and sheltered from the harms of the outside world. For me, it was a place to share and experience the joy of growing up and growing older with the people I love. Unfortunately, there are thousands of children in Colorado who do not have a safe home where they can thrive in loving, familiar surroundings. In their homes, they experience abuse and neglect, rather than love and nurturing. For them, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) provides a powerful, caring voice.
Colorado CASA is the statewide coordinating agency for the 14 CASA programs in Colorado. The organization advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children by promoting and supporting the development, growth and continuation of quality CASA programs throughout the state. Nationwide, the CASA program has more than 900 member agencies that train volunteers to represent abused and neglected children in court.
CASA’s work is based on the belief that every child has the right to a safe, permanent home. By thoroughly exploring each child’s background, dedicated and highly-trained volunteers are able to assess the child’s unique situation. Volunteers are assigned by the court to a child through the investigation and resolution of abuse and neglect matters. They spend two to four hours per week with a child, getting to know his/her life, hopes and dreams. They may observe interactions with parents, talk to teachers, coaches or foster care families, providing the court an objective report and insight into what is in the child’s best interests. The child then may continue to live with his/her family, be placed in foster care, or become available for adoption.
Simply Staying on the Team
What impact can a CASA volunteer have? Imagine being a child removed from his/her home, living in a series of foster homes, wanting to feel like a "normal" kid. You are assigned a CASA volunteer, and once a week you have a caring adult to turn to. She listens when you explain about your baseball team. It’s your team and you count on it.
In fact, it’s about the only thing you look forward to. Your CASA volunteer speaks up in court to recommend that you not be relocated across town, where there would be no transportation to practice or games. Because your baseball team is important to you, she fights for you and your right to participate in this or other sports. A CASA volunteer may be the most consistent adult presence in a child’s life. CASA volunteers also are a unique resource to the court for objective information about the child and recommendations on issues from appropriate medical attention to whether parental rights should be terminated. In all cases, they advocate for the child’s best interests.
The Need in Colorado
From 1997 to 2004, the number of Colorado sites offering CASA programs increased from five to 14, but there is still much work to do. More than 8,600 Colorado children experienced abuse and neglect in 2004, an increase of 12 percent since 2003. In 2004, CASA programs in Colorado provided services to 2,614 of those children, which means 6,000 abused and neglected children did not have a CASA volunteer to advocate for their best interests.
How to Support Abused Children
There are no easy answers for the serious issues of child abuse and neglect. Yet, Colorado CASA provides a voice in court for the hearts and minds of these children. On Oct. 29 at the Sheraton Denver West Hotel, Colorado CASA will hold its 10th Annual Colorado CASA Training Conference. This year’s theme is "The Many Faces of Colorado Children — A Case for Inclusiveness." The conference will provide appropriate training for CASA staff and volunteers, guardian ad litem attorneys, and other child-serving professionals on issues of diversity among children involved in dependency and neglect cases.
If you would like more information about CASA or the conference, call Colorado CASA at (303) 623-5380, or visit http://www.coloradocasa.org.