If interested in ways to help CASA, call Tanya Ferguson, program coordinator for the Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA, at (970) 620-2342 or visit www.nwrmcasa.org.
Although the child welfare system works within its powers to help the children in it, legal jargon and the complicated process of justice can drown out the small voice of a child.
That’s why Karen Stillion, vice president of the Moffat County School Board and teacher at the CNCC Cosmetology School, donates her time to be a CASA volunteer.
CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, are volunteers who donate much of their time and souls to helping abused or neglected children be heard in the foster care and child welfare system.
“I’m a voice for the child in court, I visit with the kids, foster parents, counselors and teachers to try to make decisions that are in the best interest for the child,” Stillion said. “You’re trying to make a positive difference in a child’s life.”
Stillion said seeing a child moved out of a bad situation into a good one, and seeing them grow in a healthy environment is one of the biggest rewards about being a volunteer.
Stillion has two children she works with and has been assigned to their cases for two years, since she began volunteering with CASA.
She normally sees them at least once a week for anywhere between a half hour to several hours.
“Depending on their age level, I try to get their feelings and a read on them,” said Stillion. “Someone takes care of their legal interest. We are more of their voice, what they want the judge to know, how they’re doing in school and if there’s anything they need.”
Stillion meets with the kids at their foster parents, at parks, at McDonalds and sometimes she’ll have lunch with them at school.
“If friends ask who the lady eating lunch with them was, they can just say a friend,” Stillion said. “Because that’s what we really are.”
And although the job of a CASA volunteer can be rewarding, Stillion said there are difficult aspects too.
It’s often hard to be the pillar of strength and comfort to someone as they experience pain and trauma. The urge to comfort from a distance can sometimes seem appealing, but being there in a time of need is something that Stillion must do every time she works with the kids.
“A lot of people tell me, ‘Oh Karen, it would just break my heart. I would get attached.’ And that’s what we all say and we do get attached,” said Stillion. “But you hope you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Stillion said she thinks CASA is an excellent program that has opened her eyes to a lot of things.
“It’s been very rewarding. It can be a frustrating at times, the legal system in general can be very frustrating,” Stillion said. But she knows that’s especially why kids need CASA volunteers. To make sure they don’t get lost in the system.
After spending time with the children, CASA volunteers make recommendations to the judge in what they feel is the best interest of the child.
Although Stillion said there are still some aspects of the legal system that sometimes throw her for a loop, being there for the child is the most important thing.
“You’re just a friend,” Stillion said.
Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org