For the children
Advocates volunteer to protect abused, neglected children
At the end of December 2016, the Douglas County foster case system reported 419 registered abused and neglected children. Two months later, there were 485 — an increase of more than one new foster child per day. According to state and federal regulations, all of these children should have a “court-appointed special advocate” or “CASA,” but they do not.
A CASA is a qualified, compassionate adult who volunteers time to fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with respect, and to grow in the security of a loving family.
At present, only half the children in the Douglas County foster care system have access to a CASA. More volunteers are needed, especially in rural areas.
CASA of Douglas County leads the effort to recruit, prepare and match volunteers with the county’s foster children.
Susan Knight, executive director of the local CASA for the past 12 years, grew up in Douglas County, but spent most of her career outside Oregon. After she retired as a vice president of Eddie Bauer, she returned to Oregon to assist her ailing parents. Bonnie Ford, the second wife of Kenneth Ford, recognized the value of Knight’s skillset and urged her to become involved in CASA. Under Knight’s direction, CASA thrived as an organization and served as a driver of cross-county collaboration.
CASA now works with three other organizations to better connect supports for children in foster care. The collaboration is known as Kids in Common. The goal is to concentrate attention on the children and families who need it most, to reduce trauma, and to improve outcomes.
Knight recently passed the CASA executive-director baton to Richelle Bryant, another woman born and raised in Douglas County, who last year returned from a job overseas working with the U.S. military.
Both Knight and Bryant agree on the need for more CASA volunteers. Each CASA advocates for up to five children each year and volunteers from two to 10 hours per month, visiting the child and attending court meetings.
CASAs are asked to make a two-year commitment to the children they serve.
The difference they make can be seen in the improved outcomes of foster children who have a CASA compared to those who do not. They are more successful in school, are more likely to be adopted and are less likely to endure more abuse.
Alisha Templeton, grants management associate at The Ford Family Foundation, has served as a CASA volunteer for three years. She is an advocate for three cases involving a total of five children. Before joining the Foundation, Templeton spent years coaching youth and working in a school environment.
When she stopped coaching, she missed the young people. She decided to become a CASA.
“The experience has opened my eyes to how much need there is — everywhere,” Templeton says. “It’s very important for all children to have an adult they can count on. The littlest things, like sitting down to play a board game, can make such a big difference.”
Templeton credits the training she received for helping her be the best advocate she can be.
“You learn what you can and cannot do — like you can’t transport them or take them out for a meal,” says Templeton. “And you can’t take them home, even if you want to. And you do. You want to take every one of them home.”
CASA volunteers come from many backgrounds. All must be 21 years old, have an email account and access to a computer. No other special skills are required, beyond the training that CASA provides. See www.casaofdouglascounty.org/volunteer for more information.