In the past year, we at Advocates for Victims of Abuse (AVA) have worked to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect and the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) national program. We would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone about CASA and where we are in our endeavors.
Each year in the United States there are more than 500,000 children placed in foster care and plunged into the court system. These children have not committed any crimes; these children are victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Once these children are in the court system, it’s up to a judge to decide where their future lies. With reports of neglect and abuse increasing at a steady rate, overburdened child welfare workers and appointed attorneys are often faced with limited time and resources. Both time and resources are needed to thoroughly investigate what is truly best for the welfare of each individual child.
For many years attitudes about child abuse and neglect were considered family matters. Children were rarely removed from homes in which a parent or family member inflicted physical harm and abuse. Neglected or abandoned children were placed into institutional settings such as asylums or orphanages. It wasn’t until the 1960’s judges began placing children with families instead of institutions. This is what has led to the current foster care system as we know it. By the 1970’s foster care became a way of life for many of the children removed from their homes. For many of these children, introduction into the foster care system meant the loss of family for the remainder of their childhood. It was not uncommon for a child to be placed in multiple foster homes with no efforts made at reunification with their birth families or attempted placement with permanent families.
In 1977, Superior Court Judge David W. Soukup saw a recurrent problem in his court room. He felt he was not getting all of the facts required to make the best informed decisions affecting the future of the children whose cases were presented. Decisions he needed to make included where the child would live, for how long and under what conditions; what services or treatments should be ordered; and/or what steps should be taken to reunite the child with the birth parents or to place the child in a new family unit. Often still the case in many court rooms today, attorney Guardian ad Litems are appointed to cases of abuse and neglect; however they often lacked the time and specialized training to conduct investigations. Social workers also responsible for many of the cases and carrying a high case load are over burdened with cases and short on time needed to devote to each child. Judge Soukup believed individuals other than attorneys could be trained to effectively speak on behalf of children. It was feasible to recruit and train qualified individuals to come into the courtroom and advocate for children. His vision became a reality in 1977, when volunteers began representing the best interest of children as court appointed Guardian ad Litems. This program later became known as Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Thanks to community generosity, we’ve been able to expand the services AVA offers free to the public. In addition to providing direct services to survivors and secondary survivors of crime, we have been able to implement the national CASA program in Winnemucca. This CASA is a program offered under the umbrella of AVA, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (EIN: 26-396611). Our volunteers have worked diligently to complete the required training; will officially begin their service in April, which coincides with National Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month efforts.
For more information on AVA and our various programs, please contact us. Volunteer applications are available on our website at www.humboldtava.com . Volunteers are thoroughly screened, both in terms of safety and suitability for mentoring, in addition to ensuring that the volunteer does not have a criminal record. All volunteers must meet requirements for working with youths and complete all required training. Volunteers will work with the Judges, and Guardian ad Litems, and be appointed by the court to match young people in the court system with trained and caring adults who can offer support, guidance and encouragement through to any child in need.