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CASA overwhelmed by current caseload

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By John Barnhart

    According to Angela Mayfield, the CASA advocate manager for the Bedford area, her office is being overwhelmed.

    CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. These are volunteers who are appointed by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge when cases involving children come before the court. They go to the home, spend time with children and prepare a report that will help the judge determine what’s in the children’s best interest.
    Mayfield has more cases than she has CASA volunteers to handle.
    “I had to ask for release from the court because we didn’t have the volunteers,” she said. “There are just so many cases.”
    The cases she was released from involved 10 children and that still leaves her with 20 on the waiting list for a CASA.
    Mayfield said she has 20 active volunteers. All of them currently have multiple cases and she must get permission from the court before any volunteer can take more than two cases simultaneously.
    One of her active volunteers is Becky Hannah, who lives in Forest.
    “This is my 22nd address,” she said. “I’ve moved a lot.”
    Hannah is originally from the Pittsburgh, Pa. area. What took her to so many different places was her career in the insurance industry. She started out in sales and ended up as an advanced market leader. Her last move, 12 years ago, brought her here from Western Massachusetts to take a position with GE Financial, now called Genworth Financial. She retired two years ago, after a 33 year career.
    Now, retired, she still wanted to stay busy.
    “I can’t be completely retired,” she said. “I’d get bored.”
    She said a friend, who works with United Way, told her about CASA. This seemed a perfect fit because she liked the idea of working with at-risk children, especially the opportunity to intervene in their lives early.
    “There is so much we can do with children if we can catch them early,” she said.
    It’s also an opportunity to do something to help break a cycle of abuse and neglect. Hannah noted that children who are abused and neglected usually grow up to do the same to their own children. Intervention in these children’s lives can give them the chance to grow up to become responsible adults and good parents, breaking the cycle.
    She applied to CASA, was accepted, and entered their training program in the spring of 2012. This is an 11 week program.
    “They certainly gave me enough information,” she said. “Nobody hung me out to dry.”
    CASAs also must get 12 hours of ongoing training each year to stay a CASA and Hannah tries to take advantage of as many training opportunities as she can.
    Mayfield also holds brown-bag lunches for CASAs. This lets them sit down around a table and share issues and ideas.
    Since completing training, she’s been assigned five cases. Two of them have closed, two are still in progress and she’s just started the fifth. Most of these cases involve multiple siblings and she’s worked with a total of 12 so far. Their ages ranged from a toddler to a high school student.
    When Hannah visits young children, she brings coloring books, crayons and colored paper and sits down on the floor with them. She said this relaxes them. She plays with them and even goes to the point of watching SpongeBob SquarePants with them.
    She also reads to them,”if they’ll sit still.”
    Hannah decides what to do based on what is age-appropriate for the children combined with what she’s learned about them.
    “Our primary goal is to make sure they have a safe, permanent home,” Hannah said.
    So far she hasn’t had any case in which parental rights have been terminated. The children ultimately stayed with their families.
    Hannah said that the parents of these children may have poor parenting skills, or may be overwhelmed with work because they have low-skill, low-wage jobs and have to work long hours to make ends meet. She said that she’s an extra set of eyes for the court and, while her focus is on the children, she may advocate for the parents, as well, to the Department of Social Services.
    “It’s nice if I can build rapport with the parents as well,” she said.
    Mayfield said she needs 10 more active CASA volunteers. Anybody who would like to help out by becoming a CASA may e-mail her at angela@cvcasa.org, or call her at 540-586-4932 ext 3202.
    The next training session, a six week blended learning class, starts on Oct. 6 and runs through Nov. 6. The classroom portions are held from 5:30-8:30 p.m. in the Monument Terrace first floor conference room at 901 Church Street in Lynchburg. This consists of 30 hours of training done in six classroom sessions plus Internet-