On Thursday, March 4, the first round of volunteers for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) of Huntington County program were sworn in by Huntington County Circuit Court Judge Davin Smith.
This program, which was previously in Huntington in the early 2000’s for a brief period, has come back to Huntington thanks to the efforts of the Youth Services Bureau (YSB) and Judge Smith.
“Judge Smith approached me and said that this was a program that he wanted to start in Huntington County,” said Jan Williams, executive director of YSB. “This is a natural fit for this program and we’re excited.”
Shortly after discussing the matter with Judge Smith, YSB got the ball rolling on receiving state and national CASA certification. They were approved in January 2020, but things were put to a halt two months later because of COVID-19.
Training for the program had to be changed from in-person training to a virtual platform. State and national certifications also had to be received in order to use program curriculum.
Tamie Morrison, the program coordinator, has been with YSB for over seven years now. Morrison explains that the job of a CASA is to advocate for a child in court and make recommendations for that child.
“One case could be more than one child. It could be an entire family,” Morrison said. “But one volunteer will only have one case at a time.”
Families may not make the request for a CASA themselves. After hearing the circumstances of a case, the judge will then determine whether or not a CASA is needed. Families are not charged for the services they do receive through the CASA program.
“This will offer the court another level of support to kids and families,” Williams said.
Funding for the program comes from the state, as well as county court dollars. According to Williams, the Huntington County Community Foundation gave YSB a $10,000 grant to start implementing the program.
“Without them, this would not be possible,” Williams said.
Those who are interested in volunteering their time will need to fill out an application. Then, if the application is accepted, volunteers will have to pass a background check through Safe Hiring and DCS. They will also have to a pass a sex offender registry background check.
After these steps have been taken, an interview will be set up with YSB. After the interview proces is completed, 30 hours of training through the national CASA curriculum and five hours of observation in court will also be required.
The 30 hours of training will cover topics such as child development, empathy, team building, substance abuse, cultural competence and other subjects that a volunteer may encounter while helping a family.
“It’s a process and it’s a commitment,” Morrison said. “And not every volunteer that applies to be a CASA will be accepted.”
YSB asks that volunteers commit to being a CASA for at least one year. According to Williams, the ideal candidate will not only have certain qualifications, but certain personality traits.
“My ideal candidate will be someone that will be the voice for that child,” Williams said. “They will be empathetic and not judgmental - someone who has the ability to deal with stressful situations professionally. And they’ll remember that they’re there to be the eyes and ears for that child.”
YSB now provides 17 different programs and services for the community and has served Huntington since 1987.