Emily Rice Published

Organization Seeks Volunteers To Help Foster Care Children Navigate Court

Judges GavelWikimedia Commons

Western Regional Court Appointed Special Advocates or, CASA helps children in Boone, Cabell, Calhoun, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Mason, Putnam, Roane and Wayne counties find someone to serve as the child’s voice throughout court proceedings.

Program Director, Kim Runyon Wilds said no that special experience is required and the organization provides training.

“We do not have enough advocates for every child, unfortunately,” Wilds said. “That’s why we are trying to get the word out about this program. We have almost 900 children that are waiting for one of our volunteers to be assigned to them just in our 10 county service area.”

Volunteers must be at least 21 years old and be able to pass a background check, including a child protective services check.

“After they get all of the background check stuff done, they’ve completed every chapter of training, then we swear them in with an oath of confidentiality with a circuit court judge,” Wilds said. “So once all of that is done, they’re ready to actually be an advocate for children who have experienced trauma.”

Wilds said each case is different. Some children who are involved in court because of abuse and neglect are assigned a Child Protective Service (CPS) social worker, and a guardian ad litem who is the attorney for the child.

Wilds said while CPS workers and guardians ad litem have large caseloads, CASA volunteers have one or two cases on average. The organization serves about 450 children each year.

“They have the ability, and frankly, the time to be able to do regular home visits, check in with the family and review records,” Wilds said. “Get a complete story of the family’s history, what’s going on, why is the family in court, and then they can then develop a relationship with the child. See what the child wants to happen in the case and see what the child’s best interests are, which will be the opinion of the advocate.”

According to Wilds, children with CASA volunteers spend less time in foster care on average and they’re half as likely to re-enter the foster care system.

“Long term outcomes for children who have been appointed a CASA volunteer are good, (they are) less likely to enter right back into foster care, less likely to drop out of school,” Wilds said. “Having the CASA volunteer, or even a consistent, caring and protective adult in a child’s life is enough to change their story. They’re changing a child’s story by helping a child advocating for a child just being a protective adult in a child’s life.”

Wilds said CASA’s ultimate goal is the reunification of the family, if at all possible.

“We want to get to know them and the environment they’re currently in along with where they came from, but our primary goal is reunification,” Wilds said. “If it can be safely achieved, we want the kids back with their parents, if that can happen.”

Interested individuals can contact CASA via their Facebook page, by calling 304-523-9587, ext. 307, or by emailing Wilds directly at kwilds@TEAMWV.org.