MIAMI COUNTY — With the rise in families negatively affected by the heroin epidemic, the Miami County CASA/GAL organization is seeking to add more volunteers to serve on behalf of the county’s children.
According to Executive Director Jennifer Sanders, the demand for Court-Appointed Special Advocates and Guardian Ad Litem (CASA/GAL) is so great, the number of children in need in 2017 is trending to surpass last year’s case load in the first quarter.
Currently the organization has 37 volunteers which served 125 children in 2015 and jumped to 152 children in 2016.
“Our case load has spiked significantly over the last year — some of that is attributed to the heroin epidemic,” Sanders said. “By the end of February we had already served 113 children and the number is continuing to go up.”
Sanders said a CASA/GAL volunteer should have a passion to work and help children, a flexible schedule to attend court dates and hearings and have the ability meet with the children at least once a month. Volunteers could include stay-at-home parents, employees who have flexible work schedules, part-time employees, grandparents or anyone interested in working on behalf a child in need of a court advocate.
“A CASA/GAL volunteer can be anyone with a little bit of flexibility and who has a heart for these kids — they really don’t require a specific background since we provide the training at no cost,” Sanders said.
CASA volunteers perform an independent background investigation for the juvenile court system on behalf of the child. The volunteers visit the child at their home or foster home as well.
“They are to advocate for whatever the needs the child has at the time. They report to the court how the child is doing and if the child needs anything,” Sanders said. “We pride ourselves that we are the one constant in the child’s life during this entire process.”
Social work in general has high turnover, Sanders said, yet CASA/GAL volunteers keep track of the child and their needs throughout the duration of their case even if the child changes schools, communities, therapists, foster homes and other areas in their life.
“We are a consistent presence in their life during this time frame,” she said. “We are able to be a voice in court for these kids and that’s also important.”
CASA volunteers need to be at least 21 years old and have a valid driver’s license. No special legal or social work background is required.
Miami County CASA/GAL is accepting volunteer applications for its spring training session. Volunteers are required to go through a screening process including a written application, three references and a personal interview with program staff and background check.
For more information, contact Miami County CASA/GAL at 335-0209, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.miamicountycasa.org. The volunteer application is available online.
Follow Melanie Yingst on Twitter @Troydailynews