Standing Up for Children: CASA Volunteers Give Victims A Voice
By Julie Langley
eing the voice and advocating on behalf of children who have faced a traumatic event is what Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) do for the community. According to statistics from the Department of Children & Family Service, one in seven children experienced child abuse or neglect last year.
Kathleen Stewart Richey is the Executive Director of Louisiana CASA and works tirelessly to find volunteers ready to stand up for the rights of children, so they do not have to face the challenges alone. “Having served as the Juvenile Court Judge for East Baton Rouge Parish, both before the CASA program existed and afterward, I can attest to the importance of the CASA volunteer,” Richey said. “The child welfare system is overburdened, and court dockets are crowded. Social workers and lawyers carry heavy caseloads, but the CASA volunteer is assigned to one child or one sibling group.”
A volunteer CASA takes the necessary time to get to know the child and their needs and gather information about the case. The CASA volunteer advocates for the child’s best interest and ensures that this child does not get lost or overlooked in the system.
In Louisiana during 2021, there were 1,610 CASA volunteers who served 3,490 children. Appointed by a judge to represent the best interest of abused and neglected children, a CASA goes to court on behalf of a child.
Once an individual has filled out and submitted a volunteer form, Louisiana CASA sends the volunteer inquiry to the appropriate local CASA program-the program in the parish indicated by the prospective volunteers. Then they undergo a background check and are interviewed by the CASA program staff.
Volunteers receive 30 hours of pre-service training, in accordance with National CASA standards, to understand the child welfare system, the court processes, and child development. Once training is complete, an oath is administered to the volunteer, and then the program assigns a specific case to the volunteer. Each volunteer has an advocate coordinator, or supervisor, on staff with the CASA program that provides guidance and support as the volunteer works the case. Most volunteers stay on the case until their assigned child is placed in a safe, permanent home.
“It is the CASA volunteers’ diligence and persistence that ensures that each child receives the attention the child deserves and that the child’s needs are met, including finding a safe, permanent home,” Richey said. “Every child deserves a chance; for Louisiana’s most vulnerable children, CASA volunteers make sure the child can thrive.”
For information on how to become a CASA volunteer in the community log onto LouisianaCASA.org and click on the volunteer tab or call 225.930.0305.