By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
CASA stands for court appointed special advocate, and that’s exactly what those who volunteer with the organization do – they advocate for the children they serve.
Those who volunteer with the program do monthly visits with those children, accompany them to court, and work to make sure their needs are met.
“A lot of people say, ‘Well, that sounds like a social worker,’” CASA executive director Jacob Perkins said. “But the thing about an advocate that’s different from a social worker is, we’re only focused on the child and the child’s voice.”
While they all are working for the benefit of the children, advocates are free to take more unorthodox approaches to meeting those needs, and can act more creatively and freely. For instance, because they aren’t state employees like social workers or law enforcement, advocates can cross state or county lines to check on a child.
They can also build relationships with the children that give them insight into what kind of things bother them, and what can provide comfort. Perkins gave an example of a child who has a favorite stuffed animal that gives them comfort. He said if this toy is at a parent’s or grandparent’s home, and could make the child’s transition to a foster home or visits with a parent less stressful, the advocate could help facilitate that. Doing so might be a matter of asking for permission from the parent or grandparent who has it in their home, he said. Or it might involve retrieving the item for the child.
“(We take an) approach of what does this kid really need or what do they want? What would make this situation better for the child? And I think that’s, as the director of the program, I think that’s kind of our goal is to make sure the children are heard. And really that’s what it all boils down to is being a voice for that child,” Perkins said.
It’s an important role, and one Perkins has been eager to bring back to Carter and surrounding counties since taking over the director seat in May.
“We’ve kind of been in a transition and rebuilding phase since the first of the year,” Perkins explained. “When they brought me on, we were at a point where we were getting a lot of stuff fixed, and changing a lot of things for the better.”
One of the first orders of business, of course, is recruiting advocates.
“We trying to push (that information) back out on social media, and just get the word out,” Perkins said.
“Word of mouth really is big for recruiting those advocates,” he continued.
So, how does one become an advocate?
“Basically… they come to us and say, ‘Hey, I want to be an advocate.’ Then we take them through a training… supervised background check… There is really kind of a lengthy process, but we help you through that entire process,” he said.
After completing their training, the advocates set their own calendars and schedules as far as visits outside of the courtroom.
Judge Neice said she was pleased to have the program up and running again, and “pleased to welcome court appointed special advocates to our team of valued community partners.”
“CASA provides oversight and training to local volunteers who improve the Court’s ability to address the unique needs of each family,” Neice said. “By providing caring assistance to individuals facing difficult circumstances, CASA volunteers often voice issues the families feel aren’t important enough to address during Court. The simple act of speaking up for others allows us as a team to better assist those we serve, and reenforces the fact that any concerns that are important to the family deserve the attention of the Court. I am thankful for the hard work Mr. Perkins and Ms. Graham have put into getting this program back in Carter County and I look forward to working with the volunteers of CASA.”
Those interested in obtaining more information or with questions about the program are encouraged to reach out to the organization at (606)739-2177, on Facebook at CASANEKY, or by visiting them online at casaneky.org.
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