(Posted Nov. 29, 2023)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
A new volunteer opportunity is available through the juvenile court system in Madison County.
The Court Appointed Special Advocates Program (CASA) seeks adults interested in giving youths in the custody or care of Children’s Services a voice. Volunteers advocate for children who are in the court system as a result of abuse, neglect, or dependency. Oftentimes, these children are in foster care, a group home, or a treatment facility for mental health.
The advocate’s job is to listen to the child, find out what their wishes are moving forward, and present the child’s best interests to the court. The ultimate goal is to reunify the child with their family by linking them to appropriate resources.
“In general, CASA is a program that recruits community volunteers who want to give back to children. You don’t have to have a certain background, just a heart for helping kids,” said Brianna Britton, Madison County’s CASA program director.
CASA volunteers must be 21 or older, fill out an application, complete a background check and an interview, and go through an intensive training.
The training includes a 33-hour pre-service course that takes place once a week over a six-week period. During the course, volunteers learn about courtroom procedure, the parties involved in courtroom proceedings, advocacy techniques for children, and other topics ranging from the welfare of children to reporting to the court. The initial training also includes court observation. Additionally, volunteers must complete 12 hours of in-service training each year.
“Our volunteers are thoroughly trained before they are even offered a case. They are sworn in by the juvenile court judge as an officer of the court,” Britton explained.
Once an advocate is given a case, they investigate the child’s life. In addition to talking to the child, they also talk to teachers, parents, grandparents, and other family members involved in the child’s life. They look into resources that can help the child and the family. Then, they write a report to inform the judge or magistrate of what is going on in the child’s life and offer recommendations for next steps.
The children range in age from infants to 18 years old, and up to 21 years old depending on the individual’s developmental status.
“They are children who need someone to speak up for them, guide them through the legal system, and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks,” said Britton who, prior to coming to Madison County, served as a CASA volunteer specialist for Greene County for four years.
“It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Britton said.
The Madison County CASA program aims to hold a training shortly after the start of 2024. The weekly sessions likely will start in January and take place in-person and online.
For more information and an application, visit CASA of Madison County. Or contact Brianna Britton at (740) 845-1632 or email@example.com. The program office is located at the Madison County Courthouse, 1 N. Main St., London. Hours are 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.