CASA faces increased need for volunteers during pandemic’s tough times
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CASA of Larimer County aimed to train another 200 volunteers and address the nonprofit’s rapid growth.
“This year has thrown so many curveballs, we’re not able to … do that. We’re still able to recruit,” said Mary Ericson, development director of CASA of Larimer County in Fort Collins.
CASA, founded in 1987, serves abused and neglected children living in the 8th Judicial District by connecting them with Court Appointed Special Advocates, who support them through the court process. Many of the children are living in foster or kinship homes and a few with their parents.
Last year, the nonprofit served 318 children and this year through Sept. 30, 278, children. More than 600 children are eligible for CASA’s services, but there aren’t enough volunteers to fill the need, along with the necessary funding.
“We’re finding a lot of people who want to get involved and help but not right now,” Ericson said.
CASA has a large number of retirees who are volunteers, but their age puts them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19, Ericson said.
Currently, CASA has 170 active volunteers. The nonprofit’s original goal was to train another 200 volunteers to be able to serve 400 children. To serve 600 children, the nonprofit would need to train more than 300 volunteers.
CASA offers five training sessions a year, consisting of 40 hours of classroom training, following an application, interview and background screening process. Once onboard, volunteers are required to fulfill another 12 hours of annual in-service training.
“We’re still able to recruit,” Carson said. “We have 14 CASAs right now who are trained and screened and could take a case and currently are waiting (through the pandemic).”
CASA’s volunteer list includes Colorado State University students and graduates and retirees with backgrounds in social services and education, among others. Each volunteer is paired with an open case consisting of one child or a sibling set who are experiencing validated abuse or neglect in the home.
The volunteers get to know the children on a personal level by meeting with them once a week and going to age-appropriate places the child enjoys, such as out to lunch, the library or the playground. They also can facilitate meetings with siblings who are not in the CASA program.
During the pandemic, some of the volunteers are meeting with the children virtually and doing activities remotely, such as following a recipe together (after dropping off the ingredients) or reading bedtime stories.
“The goal is to make sure that child is being taken care of and getting the attention they need,” Ericson said.
The volunteers attend court hearings and submit weekly court reports to the judge, informing the courts about what’s going on from their perspective. They provide recommendations regarding services for and placement of the children based on what they think is the next best step.
While working with the children, the volunteers look for gaps in needs, such as medical care and educational accommodations, and act as an advocate when the children meet with their doctors, therapists, caseworkers and guardians ad litem, or lawyers.
“They are encouraged to meet with whoever plays a role in that kid’s life,” Ericson said.
The volunteers commit to remain with the child during the duration of the case, which typically is 12 to 18 months but can be as many as two to three years, Ericson said. Their monthly commitment typically averages eight to 11 hours, she said.
Research shows that children who have a stable adult in their lives are more successful in school and continue on in their educations and ultimately have more stability in their lives, Ericson said.
“CASA plays a huge role in offering stability. To have someone who they can confide in and who they can trust in is vital to their development,” Ericson said. “They help them feel like they have a family when otherwise they might not feel that way.”
Ericson suspects that once the situation settles with the pandemic, there will be more cases from struggles at home, and the need for volunteers will increase even more.
“To highlight the need for volunteers, the need in our community is growing and the need for volunteers is so, so great,” Ericson said.
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