Too much goes unnoticed in this busy world today, such as the more than 50,000 abused, neglected and abandoned children in Kansas who are put into the court system each year through no fault of their own.
Court Appointed Special Advocates is a national program that works specifically for those children. Its volunteers work directly with the courts to help children achieve the best possible outcome in a case to ensure they spend less time in court and foster care, as well as have a better chance of finding a permanent home.
Three Fort Hays State University students – senior Phillip Gage, junior Emily Linden and junior Crystal Werner – recently completed the CASA volunteer training. On Tuesday morning, these students were sworn in as CASA volunteers by Judge Bouker, a district court judge in Hays.
The students are members of a class taught by Tammy Lynn, instructor of justice studies, whose class is working directly with CASA.
“(I would like) to help out a little kid that’s in a bad situation,” Gage said. “I want to get some court experience, and it seems like a good opportunity to get it.”
“(The volunteers) have sworn that they’ll do their duty to be in the best interest of the child and to work for the courts,” Lynn said.
CASA volunteers are required to complete an application, pass the Social and Rehabilitation Services Child Abuse registry and background checks, provide three references and be interviewed by CASA staff. In addition, each person must complete 30 hours of training in order to become a certified CASA volunteer.
A CASA volunteer has three main functions: to serve as a fact-finder for the judge, speak for the child and represent the child’s best interests in the courtroom and act as a watchdog for the child throughout the entire duration of the case, ensuring that the case rightfully gives the child a chance.
“(The volunteers) work directly with the courts to make recommendations to the court about what’s in the best interest of the child. So when a child is removed from the home due to being a victim of abuse or other issues that take place in the home, the CASA volunteer is appointed,” said Lynn.
CASA volunteerism is open to anyone in the community willing to complete the training and wanting to make a difference by standing up for an abused, neglected or abandoned child.
“The people that are assigned CASAs are all volunteers, and anyone in the community can be a volunteer,” said Lynn.
A “Teaming up for CASA” benefit is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 17, at the Beach Schmidt Performing Arts Center. Proceeds will go towards CASA of the High Plains, Inc., the local, non-profit organization that covers the 23rd judicial district of Ellis, Gove, Rooks and Trego counties. Tickets are $5 and can either be purchased in advance by calling the CASA office at (785) 628-8641, or at the event itself.
The keynote speaker for the benefit is Joe Drape, a New York Times award-winning sports reporter and motivational speaker. Drape’s most recent book, “Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen,” tells the story of the North Central Kansas town’s record-breaking success in their high school football program and has become a New York Times best-seller.
For more information on the benefit or on CASA, contact Lynn at (785) 628-5235, visit the CASA of the High Plains Web site at http://kansascasa.org/district23, or become a fan on Facebook under CASA of the High Plains Inc.