A life of addiction and drug abuse laid waste to their mother, and when the woman died, the two children moved in with their father. Physically and emotionally unfit to raise a family, the man treated one child with cruel disregard while showing a twisted brand of favoritism toward the other.
Horrifying details of abuse began to surface. The boy was encouraged to beat his sister as perverted entertainment for his father’s friends. The father withheld food and clothing from the daughter. She was underweight; her skin had turned ashen.Someone contacted Social Services.
Oftentimes, cases like this end in tragedy, with an attention-getting headline decrying a child fatality. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is an organization that is committed to keeping children safe—committed to preventing the kind of outcome that might end up receiving front-page exposure.
Since 1994, Henrico CASA has served 1,722 children with the help of 406 volunteers. Barbara Herzog, executive director, said the nonprofit is staffed by court appointed specially-trained volunteer Advocates who help investigate the environments in which these children live.
“CASA volunteers, whether they have a full-time job or are retired, have children of their own or no kids at all, devote their own time to recommending better care for children in our community,” Herzog said.
She noted that volunteers play a significant role in helping the Court make important determinations for children’s welfare. “Based on the volunteer’s regular observations and collection of factual information about each child, the Court can look closer at what services will help the children return to a safe, permanent home in a much shorter period of time.”
In recent years, Henrico CASA has experienced marked growth. Since this time last year, 117 volunteers have come into the lives of 367 children, representing a 35 percent uptick in the agency’s caseload this fiscal year.Taking this trend into account, Herzog recognizes a need for more volunteers from the community. “No child who has been referred for services has gone unaided,” Herzog said proudly, “but our need for volunteers to continue this work is great.”
When volunteers sign on with Henrico CASA, they receive the full support of the organization. “The training program is extensive so that advocates are adequately prepared for the level of responsibility required of them,” said Herzog.
Not only does the program require 38 hours of training and courtroom observation before the advocate is assigned to his or her first case, but a strong system For collaboration and back-up is in place.CASA volunteers are always supported by staff members who accompany volunteers on home visits and court appearances, assist them in writing reports, and provide guidance on case matters. Having this support is critical, as each case offers a unique situation for advocates to assess.Volunteers can count on the expertise of staff to support them in determining the best outcomes for the child.
Once training is complete, Herzog estimates the average time commitment is about ten hours per month. After the first year of service, twelve hours of continuing education must be completed each year a volunteer is active.
Learning about the courts, how children are served in the Richmond area, and working on the front line of the organization are just some of the benefits CASA volunteers mention. “The biggest reward of all,” said Herzog, “is the permanent change our organization can make in the lives of children. With the devotion of energetic and dedicated volunteers, children in Henrico County who may have been neglected or abused, but deserve safety and understanding, can find a safe and loving place to call home.”
CASA needs volunteers. For more information, go here.