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Clackamas Countys Child Advocates program seeks volunteers for fall recruitment

Organization is short 100 Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Approximately 100 children in Clackamas County's juvenile dependency court system do not have Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs).

The program's supervisors encourage those interested in the volunteer position to research its requirements online and sign up for this fall's recruitment.

'It's evident over and over again the impact a CASA can have on a case,' said Linda Rinnan, a Clackamas County CASA supervisor. 'We're able to focus on one or two cases and monitor all the details. That makes a huge difference.'

There are right now 122 active CASAs in Clackamas County serving 235 abused and neglected children who are under the protection of the court, Rinnan said. During the last fiscal year, 165 CASA volunteers in Clackamas County served 440 children.

Fifty-five current cases are on a priority wait list, needing a CASA, while the remaining 45 children without CASAs may be at an advanced stage in the case where the need isn't high due to a reached permanency plan. According to Rinnan, they may already be in a guardianship or adoptive home.

Rinnan began as a CASA seven years ago after seeing an ad. 'It looked like something fulfilling, interesting and challenging,' she said.

For more than four and a half years, Rinnan has served as a supervisor for Clackamas County and said it's good for her.

'It's rewarding, challenging work,' Rinnan said. 'I don't think I can emphasize that enough. It's not easy.'

She said volunteers stretch the gamut of retirees to young professionals who work full-time.

CASAs make a four-part pledge to advocate for the child or children's best interest, investigate what is happening in the child's life, monitor orders the court has put in place and facilitate throughout the case to ensure the child's needs are met.

The time commitment is 10-15 hours a month on average, and most CASAs are assigned to one child at a time unless they have more experience or commit to assisting a set of siblings.

A CASA 101 orientation class held 6-7 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month in Oregon City is the initial step to becoming a CASA. In it, supervisors describe in detail what a CASA does and what the 30-to-40-hour training will involve before a CASA is 'sworn in.'

The training uses a university model, holding three-hour classes spread out at morning, afternoon and evening times. Rinnan said there was no requirement on what order the classes were taken, and they're intended to accommodate different schedules.

Besides its orientation and training, a prospective CASA must observe court hearings, interview with Child Advocates and pass a background check. These processes are a 'good screening mechanism,' Rinnan said.

Part of the challenge of the work, Rinnan said, was to think about the child's sense of time. To an adult, six months may not seem long, but for a child, it can be really long.

West Linn and Oregon City tend to draw the most Clackamas County CASA volunteers, but Rinnan said she sees volunteers from rural parts of the county, too, and encourages people from these areas to volunteer.

Recruitment begins after Labor Day, and anyone interested is invited to ask questions about the position and peruse Clackamas County CASA's website.

The organization summarizes all cases needing a CASA and allows CASAs to select their own cases.

Nancy Wakefield has been a Clackamas County CASA volunteer for more than four years and said the most rewarding part is 'seeing children be able to go home and reunite with their families.'

'Welcome, welcome -- we need you,' Wakefield said. 'We need more CASAs. It is certainly rewarding work -- also frustrating, challenging and saddening -- but when you remember what you're really there for is to help meet the best interest of kids and find safety and permanency, that puts the difficult parts into perspective.'

CASA has existed since 1977 when a Seattle judge began training community volunteers to step into the courtroom on behalf of children.

'The supervisors are a great support,' Wakefield said. 'If you are a little unsure of whether they will have all the skills or experience necessary (to be a CASA), don't let it stop you.'

• For more information, call Child Advocates at 503-723-0521 or visit casa-cc.org.

CASA qualities

• Working as part of a team

• Ability to listen and observe

• Good communicator

• Versatility in working with a wide variety of personalities

• Ability to lay aside biases

• Good people skills