By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a national network of more than 946 programs that recruit, train and support volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children. The original CASA program began in 1977 when a Seattle juvenile court judge came up with the idea of citizen volunteers representing the interests of abused and neglected children. The stated mission of the Tennessee CASA Association is the “start-up, support and continuation of CASA programs across the state of Tennessee.” Currently in Tennessee 48 out of 95 counties are served by 30 CASA programs. Unfortunately, that leaves half the counties in the state without the benefit of these tenacious volunteers.
Tennessee CASA Association was incorporated in December 1988 to help strengthen the CASA statewide. A grant from the National CASA Association in 1992 provided financial stability. In 1996, Tennessee CASA hired its first executive director. Funding increased in 2003 when funds were obtained from a voluntary fee on marriage licenses. Some increased funding also became available through the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. There is still a great need for both money and volunteers if Tennessee CASA is to meet its goal of having a CASA volunteer for every abused and neglected child who comes to the attention of the court by the year 2020.
The volunteer advocates work on cases in juvenile court. Judges appoint these advocates to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children. They represent just the children. Not the parents, the social worker, the judge or anyone else. The volunteers do their best to identify a safe, permanent home for abused and neglected children. They try to ensure that these young victims do not get lost in an overburdened legal system or find themselves in an inappropriate or inadequate group or foster home. They give a voice to the voiceless and vulnerable. The work of a CASA volunteer is truly a high calling.
According to their website, CASA is always looking for volunteers with “a heart for children and a willingness to speak out and represent their best interests.” The basic requirements to become a CASA volunteer are that you must be 21 years of age or older, pass background checks, participate in a 30-hour pre-service training course and agree to stay with a case until it is closed. Cases typically last a year and a half. The next training class for CASA volunteers is the winter training class scheduled to begin in late February 2015. You should contact Summer Colbert, Volunteer Coordinator, at (865)329-3399, ext. 4 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on the application and training process. Please consider volunteering or donating to this important program. You should always consult an attorney for legal advice regarding your particular situation. My office number in Knoxville is (865)539-2100.