Child advocacy group hopes to expand to Carter County

Published 9:27 am Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Contributed Photo  Court Appointed Special Advocates give children voices in court and help ensure the best possible outcomes for children coming from homes with abuse or neglect.

Contributed Photo
Court Appointed Special Advocates give children voices in court and help ensure the best possible outcomes for children coming from homes with abuse or neglect.

A program dedicated to helping find safe, permanent homes for children hopes to expand its reach to Carter County.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of staff and volunteers that are appointed by judges to advocate for children that come from homes with abuse or neglect.
“CASA provides an invaluable service that is the eyes and ears for the judge and the voice for the child in court,” said Judge Robert Lincoln. “Volunteers have helped hundreds of children in Washington County find safe and permanent homes in which they can thrive.”
Volunteers provide the judge with researched information about the child’s environment . By talking with the child’s parents, family members, social workers, health providers and school, as well as records from the school or case worker reports, CASA volunteers can make knowledgeable recommendations to the judge. Volunteers may recommend counseling, medical or homework help for the children as well as counseling or alcohol classes for the parents.
“This gives the judge more information to make those decisions, and judges right now accept about 90 percent of volunteer recommendations,” said Leslie Dalton, executive director of CASA Northeast Tennessee.
Research shows that having a CASA volunteer results in less time in foster care, and that children receive necessary services and find permanent homes faster, Dalton continued.
According to data from the US Justice Department, if CASA is on the case, the time a child spends in the system is greatly reduced by as much as half, and less than 10 percent of children served by a CASA advocate re-enter the foster care system.
Beyond the services that volunteers provide, Dalton said they give a child a trustworthy person to confide in. Typically a volunteer works with one or two cases, though Dalton said they can work with up to five. Each case continues until it is permanently resolved.
Volunteers typically work about 15 hours each month. Becoming a volunteer requires the completion of 30 classroom hours, five courtroom hours of professional training, and mentoring with an experienced advocate. Once an advocate completes these steps, he or she is sworn in as an officer of the court, but they can always rely on CASA program staff for consultation and assistance with casework.
CASA Northeast Tennessee currently includes Greene, Unicoi and Washington Counties, but Dalton said they want to expand to assist children in Carter County, where last year alone 312 kids were in the court system as a result of abuse or neglect.
In the fiscal year of 2012-2013, the program served 428 kids in its three counties. Nationwide, 60 percent of children have no access to a CASA volunteer.
Dalton has introduced the program to Elizabethton City Council and Kiwanis Club and has plans to present to more organizations and groups. She is currently working with Carter County General Sessions Judge Keith Bowers Jr. to open the opportunity to children and volunteers here.
Dalton said to begin, she hopes to have 10-15 volunteers, but that to serve all of the children of Carter County, she said she would need 30-50 volunteers.
The first year is expected to cost $25,000 for volunteer training and to hire a court liaison, and Dalton said they already welcome donations.
“We’re hoping to begin taking cases by the end of this year,” said Dalton. Right now, she and her staff and local volunteers will continue to reach out to spread awareness and build a network.
Those interested in learning more or getting involved are encouraged to visit or call 423-461-3500.

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