A heart for children

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CASA volunteer gets early start

By John Barnhart

The minimum age to be a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is 21. Chelsea Clemons, who is 22, is the youngest CASA working out of the Bedford office.

    CASAs are appointed by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court when a case comes before the court that involves children. The CASA’s job is to look out for the children’s interests and prepare a report for the judge. All CASAs are volunteers.

    The job takes training and there are two routes to get it. One is through a class that is held on a regular basis at Central Virginia Community College’s (CVCC) Lynchburg campus. It’s also possible to do an independent study program under an advocate manager. Clemons chose the independent study route. This worked well for her as she is also working on a degree program, online, through the University of Phoenix.

    “Since I go to school online, I’m pretty organized,” she said.

    “She is very organized,” commented Angela Skarp, the advocate manager and independent study coordinator she works with.

    Clemons said that, in order to work on a degree over the Internet, a student must be a self-starter. She also has to pay attention to deadline dates.

    Why did she want to take on this volunteer job?

    “I love children,” she commented.

    It also fits well with her degree program, which was also motivated by her love of children. Her degree will be in social work and she is interested in working either with foster care or child protective services. It will be a good experience for Clemons, who anticipates finishing her degree in early 2011.

    This volunteer work may also help her with her goal of where she wants to work. When she gets her degree, she hopes to find a job in this area. Being a CASA is allowing her to build relationships with local social workers.

    All CASAs are sworn in by a judge and Clemons took her oath in July, the month she turned 22. She’s currently working on a case.

    New CASAs aren’t just thrown off the deep end in hopes that they can swim. As this is Clemons’ first case, she works closely with Skarp. Skarp has accompanied her on home visits, something all CASAs do.

    Clemons has already sent in her first report and Skarp expects work on the case to be completed in January. Clemons said that this first case has confirmed for her that being a social worker is the career she truly wants.

    “I just think kids are innocent,” she said, noting that they don’t realize what’s wrong at home.

    “They need for people to be there, for you to be there,” Clemons commented.

    Skarp said that being a CASA is not your typical volunteer job. It requires dedication. Furthermore, CASAs do home visits and they never know what they will find.

    As always, the CASA program could use more volunteers. Skarp said that the Bedford office has a case load of 60 children.

    The next class at CVCC begins in January, and people wanting to get training on an independent study basis may begin at any time.

    For more information, contact Angela Skarp at 540-586-4932, or via e-mail at angela@cvcasa.org. For more information on CASA, go to www.cvcasa.org.