CASA Of 11th Judicial Circuit Is There For Children In Pocahontas And Greenbrier Counties
Lewisburg, WV – CASA is like the United States Marines – they fight and they’re looking for a few good men and women. The non-profit, national organization relies on volunteers to help judges make the best decisions for children, who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
Jenny Castle, director for the 11th Judicial Circuit in West Virginia, which includes Pocahontas County, describes the CASA program.
“CASA stands for court-appointed special advocate,” she said. “Our agency is primarily responsible for training community volunteers, who would like to donate between five and 10 hours a month to advocate for abused and neglected children that are in the foster care system.”
In court systems that have CASA programs, volunteers are assigned to a case when a child is removed from his or her home.
“We are assigned by the judges,” Castle said. “They review the petitions to remove the children because they were in imminent danger or in harm’s way. So, when a judge reviews the petition, he decides whether he wants a CASA volunteer assigned to the case, at that time. So, we are assigned to a case when the children are removed and we are not dismissed from the case until permanency is achieved.”
Castle says CASA volunteers perform four basic tasks.
“We do four basic things for the judge,” she said. “One is we follow court-ordered services. So, if the judge orders the family to go to mental health counseling or drug testing, we will follow up to make sure they are doing those, they are keeping their appointments.”
Volunteers also collect information from individuals involved with the child.
“The second thing that we do is we can interview anyone who may have relevant information about the child. We can talk to the schoolteachers, doctors, baseball coaches, anyone that we feel can give us information, so the judge has a full picture of this child, not just the abuse and neglect part, so he can make better decisions on the outcome of the case – what is truly best for this child.”
CASA volunteers provide a recommendation to the court.
“The third thing that we do is, we make recommendations based on what we feel the child’s best interests is, and what best interest in CASA terms means safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible. So, we will make recommendations that the child will receive counseling, or that they’re screened by the West Virginia Birth To Three program. Basically, where we feel the child should be.”
CASA ensures that the court fully considers the child’s desire.
“Finally, we are the child’s voice in court,” Castle continued. “We will always advocate for what they wish. Whether we agree or not, the judge will know exactly what this child wants and desires. So, when he’s making these decisions, he knows, not only what we feel is in their best interests, but what they want, as well.”
The Pocahontas County CASA program needs volunteers. Castle says volunteers must commit just five to 10 hours per month.
“Anyone that can pass a background check, that has the time – five to 10 hours per month – to dedicate to these children, we will walk them through and hold their hand, as much as they need us to,” she said. “Most of our volunteers do work full-time. If they work full time, national CASA only allows two cases per volunteer, so, if you work full-time, we will only give you one, unless you feel you can handle the second one. The hours vary, but the national CASA average, as well as the average here, because I’ve figured it out many times, is about 10 hours a month.
CASA is not available everywhere to help abused and neglected children. The program operates in just 30 of the 55 counties in the state and relies on grants, fundraising and donations to survive. Dozens of children in Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties are waiting for a CASA volunteer.
Castle says alcohol and drug abuse is largely to blame for the burgeoning case load.
“I don’t know if it’s getting worse or better, but I can tell you that the number of children we’re seeing in the court system is increasing,” she said. “I believe substance abuse is a huge problem. I would say that 98-percent of our cases in both counties are somehow related to substance abuse.”
For more information on how to help the Pocahontas County CASA program, call 304-645-5437 or visit casaadvocates.org.