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Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Louis Harrison swore in a dozen new CASA volunteers Thursday evening. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate.
CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge to cases involving children who have been abused or neglected and are involved in Juvenile and Domestic Court proceedings The primary role of a CASA volunteer is to conduct an independent investigation of the child’s situation and provide a written report of his or her research and recommendations to the judge. The CASA report becomes an important resource for the judge when making decisions regarding the children’s future and their placement in a safe, permanent home.
According to Jane Francis, of CASA of Central Virginia, the program, in Central Virginia is now 20 years old and, over those two decades, has helped 2,700 children.
“I’m handing you a child,” said Judge Harrison, after swearing in the new volunteers.
Judge Harrison said this, emphasizing the gravity of the situation. He challenged them to be inspired and to inspire others. He also challenged them to think about a child’s long-term future. CASAs are in a good position to see a child’s problems and connect the child with people who can help.
“I guarantee you this,” he said, “if you try, you will make a difference.”
Judge Harrison also showed the new volunteers a display of drug paraphernalia, including a variety of bongs and creative ways that drug users have hidden their stash. CASAs need to be alert for these issues as many of the cases they will handle will have substance abuse as a factor.
Why do they volunteer?
“I just always had a passion for children,” said Carlye Beverly, a business analyst for an insurance company in Lynchburg. Beverly is a Bedford native who graduated from Liberty High School in 1996.
“Just to do something for the children,” said Preston Sellers, about his motivation.
Sellers works for the Lynchburg Department of Social Services as a benefits program specialist. He also served in the Army, retiring after 24 years.
Dave Erickson is an engineer for Babcock & Wilcox. He said that he has provided a home for 29 foster children in past years. Now that he’s heading for retirement, he wants to get involved with helping children again.
“Just to help protect children,” said Ryan Smith. Smith, along with three other new CASA volunteers—Sherry Ware, Patty Hammock and Dyana Brightwell—work for Patrick Henry Boys and Girls Plantation.
Because the number of abused and neglected children always exceeds the number of available trained volunteers, CASA of Central Virginia is currently seeking volunteers who will enter the next training program which will be held in the Conference Room at Pearson Regional Cancer Center in Lynchburg on Thursdays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. beginning on January 20. For more information on becoming a CASA volunteer, contact CASA of Central Virginia by phone at (434) 528-2552 or by e-mail at email@example.com, or go to the Web site, www.cvcasa.org.
Francis said that they especially need more volunteers in Bedford County.
“It’s because Judge Harrison is very proactive about appointing CASAs to cases where the welfare of a child is a concern,” she said.