By GENE ESPY
“We want what is best for the child that we work with, whatever that might be,” Anita Goodwin, Program Director of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program said. “Our goal in everything we do is that child have is a safe, permanent, loving home,” Mrs. Goodwin said,
The program uses judge-appointed volunteers to work with kids and be their advocate as they navigate the maze of legal, and other obstacles they may face.
The CASA Program is in Dade, Walker, Catoosa and Chattooga counties in Northwest Georgia, Anita Goodwin, Program Director for the organization said.
There was a CASA program in the area a few years ago,” Mrs. Goodwin, said. “Never in Chattooga County until this past year.”
They hired Mrs. Goodwin in 2015 and the program was re-started after a period when it lapsed.
The CASA program serves children that are in DFCS care due to child abuse and neglect and the volunteers are appointed by the judge of that court.
“We assign a volunteer to become a part of that case,” Mrs. Goodwin continued. “The volunteers have to go through an eight-week training with court observation.”
The volunteers have to go through a background check. The Child Abuse Registry has to be checked and other things like that before the volunteer is approved.
“They have to go through that background check before they are allowed to be a CASA,” she said.
“And then they are appointed by a judge for a specific case to work with those children.
They are asked at that point to see that child at least once a month so that they can stay in touch with them.
“Most of our CASAs spend a little bit more time than that, but they do see them face-to-face at least once a month.”
With their court order they can go in and have access to interview people, access to records, they have access to gather that information everywhere, according to Mrs. Goodwin.
“What they want to do in the long run is to use everything that they gathered and it is their job at that point to make a recommendation to the judge for what is in the best interest of the child and that is one of the biggest things we work for – the best interest of that child, Mrs. Goodwin continued.”
She said that the CASAs are the child’s advocate, they are not really the family’s advocate.
“We want what is best for that child, whatever that might be, which is not always easy,” she said.
Kids belong with their families and we know that, but sometimes that is just not possible – sometimes that just cannot happen, according to Mrs. Goodwin.
“Sometimes the recommendation is for them not to go back to their family,” she explained. “It may be termination. There are a lot of hard decisions the CASA has to make, and they don’t make those lightly.”
Once the CASAs make the commitment to this and that is another thing that CASA asks them to do is make a commitment to stay with this child until the case is over.
Most juvenile courts cases and DFCS cases are not over in a day, a month or a year, they may run two years, they may run a little bit more than that.
“When they make that commitment, we like to say to them, you may be making a long-term commitment to this,” Mrs. Goodwin said. “So far our folks are good with that.”
Right now, the program has 20 active CASAs.
A lot of the CASAs are retired and older, she continued. CASAs sometimes over the years many more CASAs have been trained but they do not always stay because it is hard and it is a commitment and sometimes life gets in the way.
“We are in desperate need or more CASAs,” Mrs. Goodwin said. “Our long-term goal is to serve every child that comes through DFCS,” she added. “And we are not anywhere near that.”
She said the perfect world is that a child does not need this program, but they do.
“In November we swore in the first CASAs in Chattooga County and are the first ones that we have had,” Mrs. Goodwin said.
Some CASAs do not want to work in the county in which they live and others say they will work wherever it is they are needed.
“Sometimes the volunteer just goes to where they are needs are,” she said.
Anyone that might like to be a CASA volunteer to help kids can contact Mrs. Goodwin at 423-402-0843.
By GENE ESPY