State seeks volunteers to help kids at Family Court hearings

DOVER — Help wanted, especially in Kent and New Castle counties.

Seeking paralegals, retired educators, nurses, therapists and other professionals, background check and some training required.

For months the Office of the Child Advocate has pushed to add volunteers to assist foster care children in Family Court cases.

While candidates frequently contact the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program, “we’re always looking for more interested individuals for our program,” spokeswoman Megan Caudell said.

There are currently just over 200 volunteers statewide, and they usually work one case (one child or small sibling group) at a time. The aim is to represent the children’s best interest, Ms. Caudell said.

Appointed by a Family Court judge, the advocate works dependency and neglect proceedings.

“The CASAs also work with other team members, such as the school, to advocate for the overall wellbeing of the child in the community,” Ms. Caudell said.

At the minimum, advocates visit a child once monthly. Youths range from birth to age 21.

CASA duties include, among others:
• Advocating for specialized education with the schools
• Requesting therapy or counseling for the child
• Medical care assistance
• Completing a job application

The children involved have been subjected to abuse and/or neglect. Court hearings determine if the child should remain in foster care or return home.

“Our first goal, is always to reunite children back with their families when it is safe and possible,” Ms. Caudell said.

While in state custody parents and extended family are regularly allowed visitation when safe and appropriate, Ms. Caudell said.
The advocates will work with families during the process towards potential children’s return home.

A program coordinator supervises volunteer and all CASA cases include an attorney working for the child’s best interests.

The Office of the Child Advocate CASA staff conducts volunteer application and interviewing. Completion of a 30-hour training course is required.

“A variety of topics are explored during the New CASA Training,” Ms. Caudell said.

“Some examples are the CASA role, the child welfare system, the court system, cultural competence, and child development.”

While no case backlog currently exists, CASAs are often assigned more cases than needed to best manage volume.

Candidates are vetted upon submitting “an application that includes an autobiography and releases for background checks,” Ms. Caudell said.

“If an application is accepted the potential volunteer will meet with a staff member in their county for an in person interview. If we find the potential volunteer to be a good match they will be invited to join a future training class.”

CASA applicants must be 21 years or older, with no criminal record that include:

• No convictions or charges pending for a felony or misdemeanor involving a sex offense, crimes against persons, child abuse or neglect, or related acts that would pose risks to children or the CASA Program’s credibility.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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