Children end up in the foster care system for a variety of reasons, and many need an advocate to guide them through the complex legal proceedings that follow.
That’s where volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocates come in. They research the children’s situations and help them and the courts make appropriate decisions about temporary or permanent home placements.
Currently, the 54 volunteers with CASA of South Louisiana are serving only a fourth of the children in foster care within Lafayette, Acadia and Vermilion parishes. The nonprofit’s goal is to serve all of those children, so it is offering summer and fall training for prospective volunteers.
Summer training, which begins Monday and runs through Aug. 15, usually consists of night classes and two Saturday classes, said Maritza Navarro, CASA advocate trainer and coordinator. Fall training is scheduled for Oct. 15 through Nov. 19 and will consist of both online and in-class training.
In total, each session provides 30 hours of training.
CASA requires volunteers to be at least 21 years old with a passion for the safety of children. There are no specific educational or job requirements. Typically, volunteers spend eight to 10 hours a month on a case.
“We ask for a commitment of at least a year,” Navarro said, adding that ideally, a volunteer will serve until the child’s case is completed.
Volunteers get to know their appointed child and the people in the child’s life — parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, doctors and others — during the time they work with the case.
“They are going to know everything about the child,” Navarro said. “The reason CASA works is they (volunteers) are in that child’s life.”
Ashley Alis, CASA executive director, said, “Basically, what volunteers are is an extra pair of eyes and ears for children going through the foster care system.”
Children may have legal representation, Alis explained, but CASA volunteers observe the situation from a different point of view, talking to family members and visiting schools. The volunteers research the child’s needs and will recommend whether they should be returned to the parents, stay in foster care or be available for adoption.
“They (foster children) are in the system through no fault of their own, so they need someone to speak for them,” Alis said. “We always hope for the happy ending, but that doesn’t always happen. We just want permanency.”
After training, volunteers will be assigned a case, but CASA provides constant assistance, Navarro said.
The volunteers “will be experts in the child’s case but have CASA to back them up,” she said.
For more information on the training sessions, call CASA at (337) 268-5111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on CASA and its services, visit www.casaofsola.org.
Training sessions are scheduled throughout the year, Navarro added.
CASA of South Louisiana is a private, nonprofit organization that receives funding from a variety of sources, including National CASA Association, Temporary Aid for Needy Families and grants. All CASA volunteer services are free.