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CASA volunteers - standing up for children

Make a difference in a child’s life; perhaps an abused or neglected child who might not have anyone else to turn to, Delyce Palik, executive director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program of Lonoke County, said. CASA needs volunteers to help ensure children who, for no fault of their own, have come to the attention of the courts.

“For an abused and neglected child, a CASA volunteer is someone who listens. Someone who fights for them,” Palik said. CASAs go to teachers, social workers, parents, lawyers, caregivers - anyone who can meet that child’s needs. CASAs are people whose mission is to help find a path out of the complex child welfare system and into a safe, permanent home, she said.

In an earlier plea, Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore called for for more volunteers for the CASA program. CASAs have become a critical part of serving the needs of children through the courts, but there are too few to go around, she said.

CASA is a national nonprofit organization that trains and supports volunteers to act as advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children. The CASA volunteer advocates are trained to work within the child welfare and family court systems and are appointed by judges to individual cases.

Applications are available for those wishing to join the team of dedicated volunteers in Lonoke County who are already serving the needs of abused and neglected children. The next training session will begin in late September, Palik said.

“Working with abused and neglected children and their families can be very demanding. However, it also can be the most personally rewarding work volunteers can do,” Palik said.

The number of such children entering foster care in Lonoke County grows each year, “By serving as a court-appointed advocate you can make a difference in the life of one of these children,” she said.

“CASA volunteers are people from our community, people like you and I, who hold the belief that all children have an inherent right to safe and permanent homes,” Palik said.

CASAs work with everyone involved in a case - the children, other family members, caseworkers from Division of Children and Family Services, and attorneys – to safeguard the child’s interests, Palik said.

No prior training or experience is needed. Advocates come from many backgrounds and from all walks of life, Palik said. “You simply need the time to give and a heart for children and families in crisis,” she said.

To become a CASA, individuals must submit an application, submit to criminal background and central registry checks, and complete 30 hours of pre-service training.

“With the help of a CASA volunteer, a child is half as likely to languish in the foster care system, and that much more likely to find a safe and permanent home,” Palik said.

For more information about CASA and how to become part of it, call the CASA office at 501-676-6533, or email casa23@sbcglobal.net to schedule a time to visit with members of the CASA team.

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