CASA program to advocate for children in court cases
December 26, 2009
For more information about the CASA community development committee or becoming a CASA volunteer, call program coordinator Kathy Bockelman at 824-2757.
Craig — As a middle school counselor in the Moffat County School District, Kathy Bockelman said she made reports to social services almost once a week detailing cases of abuse and neglect.
And she knows counselors only see the tip of the iceberg.
After 34 years in education, Bockelman retired and found her new calling as the program coordinator for the fledgling Court Appointed Special Advocate program.
"The more I read about CASA, the more excited I was about it," Bockelman said. "I've always worked with kids and have a passion for helping kids."
CASA is a nationwide program supported by the federal government that appoints special volunteers to act as a child's voice in abuse and neglect court cases.
CASA volunteers are not attorneys or social service case workers; they usually only work on one case at a time, looking at all aspect's of the child's situation to advocate for him or her in the court system.
Bockelman's job is to organize a community development committee and recruit volunteers, who could begin training as early as March.
Diane Waters, a CASA rural program director based in Denver, said Judge Michael O'Hara requested the program in Moffat County. She said it will be a good fit for the Craig community.
"We're really excited about being there," Waters said. "A lot of people bring with them the knowledge of what they've seen with kids. They're not like a mentor; they're very temporary. Kids know that from day one, but they really do provide that relationship that can change kids' lives."
She said CASA volunteers range from retired teachers and nurses to homemakers and prison guards.
The volunteers have to pass a background screening and undergo 30 hours of training, learning how to assess a children's needs and be their voice in court.
"Volunteers really need to be able to deal with the system, and that can be frustrating, but really they need to have a commitment to kids and the ability not to get too emotionally involved," Waters said. "They check on how the child is doing with medical care, educational services and making sure they're doing OK in school."
She said that in other communities, CASA helps to strengthen existing social services and helps create new services where there is a void.
In Cortez, Waters said one of the CASA clients needed a tutor for advanced calculus.
The child's CASA volunteer helped find a tutor who offered services for free while helping the student with college applications.
"Every community is so different," Waters said. "The CASA staff is usually involved in collaborations like the child protection team or the meth project."
No matter how many volunteers apply, Waters anticipates there will be cases for each of them to work on.
In 2008, Moffat County had 10 cases of abuse and neglect that could have been supported by a CASA worker. In Routt County, which has a larger population, there were eight.
The closest CASA program currently is in Granby, and the new program will serve both Moffat and Routt counties.
Bockelman said there is a clear need for more child social services in Moffat County.
"I think this can offer the individual attention for kids that need it," she said. "We seem to have more need here than in Steamboat."
She said she heard from Advocates-Crisis Support Services that they had served 400 to 500 clients with domestic violence issues.
"That's got to impact our kids," she said.
Once the program is up and running, Bockelman and Waters agreed it could have lasting effects on the community.
"When kids have a CASA, there's a lot of research that shows they're more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to have behavior problems in school," Waters said. "It's because they have that one person who's always there for them. The volunteer gets to be the person the kid sees as someone who's going to be positive about everything."