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Advocating for children's best interests

Friday concert will raise funds, build awareness for CASA of Clackamas County

Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Nancy Wakefield, a retired teacher and administrator, has been volunteering with Court Appointed Special Advocates for children (CASA) for seven years. It’s funny how one phone call can change the course of a life. Or several.

Thirteen years ago, Nancy Wakefield was a principal in the Neah-Kah-Nie School District on the Oregon coast when she got a call from a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children.

“I don’t know if I said this out loud, but I was like, ‘What? A who?’” Wakefield says now.

Despite a long career working in schools as a teacher, special education instructor and administrator, the phone call was Wakefield’s first encounter with a volunteer organization that now spans 948 programs in 49 states.

CASA was formed in 1977 by Washington Supreme Court Justice David Soukup, who recognized that children need an adult in the courtroom who can speak to their best interests. Attorneys are required to represent the desires of their clients, but that isn’t always the same as representing their best interests.

Fourteen years ago, a small state grant helped launch Child Advocates, Inc. — CASA of Clackamas County. Today, 125 volunteers serve more than 400 area children in a program that is funded primarily by individual and business contributions, community organizations and foundation grants.

To help raise funds and build awareness, the organization is staging a concert at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 15, at Willamette Park in West Linn. The concert, featuring Harmony Road and Whiskey Deaf with Annie Staninec, is free, but donations of $10 per person are encouraged.

Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Susie Norby says that during the short time since she started deciding juvenile dependency cases, “One of the first things I realized is that the CASA representative is usually the most useful person in the room.

“They’re the most fair and balanced perspective,” she says. “They give me confidence that I’m making a decision that is right for the child.”

A steady influence

Wakefield retired to West Linn in 2005, “and after I got tired of playing Free Cell ...” she found her way to CASA of Clackamas County.

For the last seven years, says Executive Director Yuko Spoffield, Wakefield has become an increasingly integral part of the local CASA.

“We want to clone her is what we always say about Nancy. We wish we could have a hundred Nancys,” Spoffield says. “We love her.”

In addition to the two children she advocates for, Wakefield can be found at the county courthouse in Oregon City just about every Thursday, watching for new cases and writing up a brief synopsis for a notebook in the CASA office.

Wakefield says the common thread in just about every case is a chicken-or-egg phenomenon.

“An awful lot of adults in our society struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse issues,” she says.

Every volunteer picks cases from the synopsis that Wakefield writes; no one is assigned cases, and most work just one at a time.

“It’s a no-guilt volunteer program,” says Wakefield.

This helps prevent burn-out. But it also offers the child — who may be in and out of homes, on and off different social workers’ caseloads or in and out of the juvenile court system themselves — one of the most steady long-term relationships in their life.

Wakefield says a child recently told her, “You know, you’re the only one who’s been with me the whole time.”

“Yep,” she answered. “I’ll be with you until you tell me to go away. That’s all I’m here for is to be about you.”

For more information about CASA of Clackamas County, go to www.casa-cc.org/index.html.

Contact Shasta Kearns Moore at 503-546-5134 or shasta@portlandtribune.com.

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