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CASA volunteers needed

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The ability to be effective in the midst of chaos is vital

By John Barnhart

    Being a CASA volunteer has proven to be an ideal volunteer job for Christine Hoyne, of Forest. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. These are trained volunteers who are appointed by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to gather information in cases involving abused or neglected children and report back to the court on their needs.

    This job is ideal for Hoyne, a retired registered nurse, because she has worked with children all her life. She’s a Connecticut native but has lived in many places. She came here from California 20 years ago when her husband got a job in this area. She was working for Abbott Labs at that time and was able to continue her career here.
    “I chose right out of school to go into pediatrics,” she said.
    Hoyne worked with children at several hospitals during her career.
    “My clinical experience in hospitals was with child care,” Hoyne said.
    Working with children has always been her first love.
    “I always liked working with children,” she said. “I feel comfortable with them.”
    One of her hospital experiences involved working in a hospital that had a specialty for treating cancer. All of children who came there had forms of cancer that are difficult to treat. These were children in serious distress. They were sick and they were away from home.
    “They feel very vulnerable,” Hoyne said.    
    She sees parallels between her work, there, and her work as a CASA. In the hospital she worked with distressed parents and distressed children who found themselves in a situation with a lot of strangers — doctors, nurses, pharmacists — in their lives. She needed to earn these people’s trust because it was easier to work with people who trusted her.
    As a CASA, Hoyne works to gain the child’s confidence as well as the confidence of as many adults as possible.
    The children are in distress and, even though there is a problem in the home, there is usually somebody in the child’s extended family who is concerned and can provide helpful information.
    “That [providing information] takes a lot of courage,” she commented.
    A CASA must remain neutral in any family dispute.
    “I am a voice for this child to the court system,” said Hoyne, explaining her role.
    Another parallel between working with pediatric cancer patients and working as a CASA is that she is involved in a child’s life for a limited period of time. This means that she must not get so close to the child that she causes additional distress for the child when she leaves.
    “You are not there to be their friend,” she said, noting that her job is to provide an environment where children can feel safe to open up.
    Her professional experience helps her walk that line. But, she still carries her cancer patients in her heart and the same is true with her CASA children.
    Hoyne is impressed with her fellow CASAs.
    “The caliber of the people is so high,” she said. “I’m proud to be a member of this group.”
    Hoyne said that this is a good volunteer job for a retiree. However, she cautions that a CASA volunteer must be able to be effective in the midst of chaos.
    CASA volunteers aren’t in a sink or swim situation. Hoyne works with social workers and attorneys working as guardian ad litem.
    “There are some very dedicated individuals,” she said.
    She has been a CASA for one year and has handled three cases, each of with involved multiple children.
    According to Angela Mayfield, the CASA advocate manager who works out of an office in the Bedford County Courthouse, said that they need more CASAs in Bedford. She said that there are 50 children currently assigned to a CASA, with 14 waiting. She said that she is having to ask the court for release on many cases because there aren’t enough advocates available.
    Mayfield said that they are now taking applications for the six-week training session that starts on Feb. 20. This will be a blended learning class that starts with a technology orientation class and combines web-based training plus five in-person training sessions.
    The technology training class will be held on Feb. 20 from 5:30 p. m. to 7 p. m. The rest of the classes run from Feb. 27 to March 27. Classes are held on Wednesdays from 5:30 p. m. to 8:45 p. m. at the Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center, located at 1801 Thomson Drive in Lynchburg.
    For more information, go to www.cvcasa.org or contact Mayfield. She can be reached by phone at (540) 586-4932 or (434) 420-2554. She can also be reached by e-mail at angela@cvcasa.org.