Children’s advocacy group seeks volunteers
SUMMIT COUNTY – Anne Marie Chapin spent much of her life as a pediatric nurse, healing children’s physical wounds. Now, she’s attempting to stave off emotional ones.
Chapin is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), a volunteer who helps children survive the impacts of a parent’s court-related wranglings. These children are often temporarily placed in foster care, or with relatives, while their parents work through the court system to resolve their issues. CASA volunteers make sure the children don’t get lost in the upheaval that typically results in such cases and work to make those young lives as normal as possible.
“It’s tough volunteer work, but it also reaps a lot of rewards,” said Chapin, who lives in Breckenridge.
CASA is a national organization, formed by a Washington Superior Court judge who grew frustrated with seeing children slip through the cracks. Susan Love oversees CASA of the Continental Divide, whose volunteers represent children in the Fifth Judicial District. Summit, Eagle, Clear Creek and Lake counties are in the district.
The problems that lead to the need for CASA volunteers often are triggered by drug and alcohol abuse.
One such case case sprang from a single mother’s severe addiction to drugs and alcohol. The woman had become so addicted that she stopped eating and stopped caring for her 5- and 7-year-old children. Authorities found the youngsters wearing filthy clothes. The kitchen cupboards were bare, and the refrigerator held a scant supply of moldy food. The mother was taken to a hospital and then to a detoxification facility. The children were placed in foster homes.
“They were living in total squalor and on the verge of malnourishment,” Love said.
A CASA volunteer came onto the scene and helped set up a plan that eventually brought the family back together. The mother agreed to join Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and to take frequent drug tests. Her former boyfriend, who had been supplying her with the drugs to which she became addicted, landed in prison and out of her life.
The children and their mother visited one another frequently. The CASA volunteer oversaw those visits and, in the interim, passed news of one another between the children and their mother. Finally, the family was reunited.
“It’s especially sweet when we can reunite children with their biological parents,” Love said. “But sometimes our stories don’t end that way. Sometimes parental rights are terminated.”
In either case, CASA volunteers attempt to smooth the way for the children and find them permanent homes as quickly as possible. The CASA volunteer not only deals with the children, but with anybody who has anything to do with those children. That means ensuring the foster families or relatives are taking good care of the children, checking with teachers for any behavioral problems and making sure the children are receiving proper health care.
“It is very emotional work,” Love said. “The volunteers agree to work on a case for the duration, which could be 12 to 18 months. They get very involved with all the players and in some very adversarial issues. It’s amazing how much responsibility these volunteers take on.”
Knowing she is helping those youngest victims is more than enough reward for Chapin.
“It’s a volunteer job where you really feel like you’re getting to the roots of what the problems are – and not just for the kids but for the families, too,” she said. “You realize you are the voice for the child. You’re the one neutral party who’s advocating for the child.”
Volunteers get 40 hours of pre-service training and must be sworn in by a judge before they can begin their work. Before they can start that training, they must fill out an application and agree to a criminal background check.
To volunteer or to get more information on CASA, call Love at (970) 949-8090.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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