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Volunteers making a difference

CASA is seeking a few good volunteers

by: submitted Photo - Seven volunteers were recently sworn in a CASA volunteers by Circuit Court Judge George Neilson.  Back row from left to right: Thomas Ledbetter, Jeeta Viera, Judge Neilson, Gaylynn Kern, Amanda Smith.  Front row from left to right: Abbie Sullivan and Patricia Peeler.  Not pictured: AJ Ostrem.

As children who have recently been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect, finding someone who is on their side can be just the ray of sunshine they need.
   Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Central Oregon is hoping to find adults who would like to make a difference by volunteering their time fighting for the best interests of a local child.
   "Whenever a child is removed from the home for abuse or neglect, they receive a CASA," said Pam Fortier, executive director of CASA of Central Oregon. "As a CASA, you would investigate all relevant information about the case. You advocate for the child and make sure that all the facts are brought before the court. Then you facilitate and negotiate to ensure that the court, DHS (Department of Human Services) and the attorneys are fulfilling their obligation for the child in a timely fashion."
   While the children have recently come into the court system, they may have concerning issues with education, health care and counseling needs. It is the job of the CASA volunteers to find the problems that each child is facing and direct resources to help them.
   "Maybe we see that Johnny needs additional help in math - that a tutor would be helpful. Or if there are behavioral issues, maybe we need to figure out why they're having those. Maybe we know that he's behind on his immunizations, so we'll bring up that he needs to get current. Or maybe his teeth have been hurting and we'll say he has to go to the dentist," Fortier said. "That's why we have to know the child and who they are as a person, so the volunteers can make those recommendations."
   Depending on each case, the volunteers usually work an average of 10 to 15 hours a month. They will be asked to attend meetings at DHS, and appointments with the attorneys and courts.
   "If the child is of an age that's old enough to understand, they know that this is the volunteer that's going to court for them to make sure that all their needs are being met," Fortier continued. "We don't make a diagnosis, but we will make recommendations."
   Currently, there are 37 children with a CASA volunteer in Crook County. In addition, there are 23 children waiting for a volunteer to help them through the process of getting the help they need.
   "We have a volunteer coordinator in Prineville, Gail Schmutz, and she keeps track of all the cases," Fortier said. "Once the volunteers are sworn in, she lets them know which cases are available. We always have to be careful with confidentiality. So she talks in general terms about what brought the child into care. Sometimes somebody is more comfortable with older kids, or somebody only wants to work with babies. So it's the volunteer's choice of which kind of case they want to take."
   Interested in volunteering?
   If you are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, call the Prineville office at 447-7220 or the Bend office at 389-1618. The February training will take place at the Family Resource Center, 205 NE 4th St., in Prineville. Training will be on Feb. 16, 17, 23 and 24, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition, the tri-county volunteer trainees will attend a presentation in Redmond on March 3 and 4, from 3 to 7 p.m.