WILMINGTON — The director of a new Clinton County CASA Program said court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers help judges make informed decisions about the future of abused or neglected children.
The information a special advocate presents to a judge can help ensure the court’s decision is truly in the child’s best interests, and is “not a decision made in the dark,” said Clinton County CASA Director Kim Vandervort.
The volunteer interviews the parties in an abuse or neglect case, reviews records pertaining to the child such as school, medical and Children Services records, and provides an informed recommendation to the judge concerning the best interest of the child. Those options include foster care placement, parental supervision or adoption.
The CASA Program started after a 1977 Seattle case where a small child died — the victim of severe child abuse — after having been placed back in his home after a court hearing. Judge David Soukup, who made the decision, maintained that if he had received fuller information, the boy’s death might have been prevented.
Soukup called upon community volunteers to assist the court through research and to represent the abused or neglected children’s best interests as they go through the child welfare and court systems and hopefully land in safe and permanent homes.
Its reputation is such that, including the new Clinton County CASA, there are about 40 local CASA programs in Ohio.
Vandervort has been a court advocate for abused or neglected children for 19 years in Clinton County. In that capacity, she has been a “guardian ad litem” for almost 600 local children.
It will be her job to recruit, train and supervise the CASA volunteers.
Every CASA volunteer must pass a background check and take part in a minimum 30 hours of initial training, and then 12 hours of continuing education yearly. After the training is completed, the volunteer will be sworn in as an officer of the juvenile court and can then be appointed to a case and begin gathering useful information.
After the case is adjudicated, the CASA volunteer will check on the child monthly to make sure things are going all right, and then continue to monitor the case and report any concerns to the court, said Vandervort.
Clinton County Juvenile Court Judge Chad L. Carey said he is hoping the program attracts people who want to give time to the community for a “very, very good cause.”
He also is pleased the program won’t involve a cost to county taxpayers — Vandervort’s salary and the training will be paid for through an initial two-year grant.
Carey added, “These Children Services cases are probably the most heart-wrenching cases on the judge’s docket.”
And Vandervort said, “These are truly our youngest victims; an abused or neglected child is a victim.”
She said she will talk to clubs or organizations or individuals regarding the CASA Program. Vandervort can be reached at the CASA office at 937-383-1137.
An open house for the new program is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9 in the Juvenile Court courtroom on the second floor of the Clinton County Courthouse.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768 or on Twitter @GHuffenberger.