Every year, more than 1,400 cases of child abuse are reported in Bradley and Polk counties. Without help, these children are at high risk for homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, and drug and alcohol abuse as adults.
That was the sobering news Chris Janetzko, executive director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Bradley and Polk Counties, shared recently with Women United.
Women United is part of the United Way of the Ocoee Region. It is a platform that serves to bring together women from within the community who are passionate about the next generation of women.
CASA is a national program, and the local United Way played a big part in launching CASA locally.
Janetzko said CASA is a community of trained volunteers who advocate for the best interest of children who are involved in the court system due to primarily abuse and neglect. CASA began in the late 1970s when Seattle, Washington, judge David Soukup “was tired of seeing the same kids in the same situations come through his courtroom,” Janetzko said.
Looking for a solution, Soukup trained his friends — including lawyers and doctors — to advocate for the children. There are currently more than 950 CASA and guardian ad litem (GAL) organizations across the country.
The role of advocates is to serve as the voice of the child, visit the child’s home, talk to all interested parties, be eyes and ears of the judge and make recommendations in the best interest of the child.
“Locally and nationally, the judge will implement the (CASA) recommendation 90% of the time,” Janetzko said.
Janetzko added CASA’s authority comes from Tennessee Code Title 37: “The court may also appoint a nonlawyer special advocate trained in accordance with that role and in accordance with the standards of the Tennessee Court Appointed Special Advocates Association (CASA) to act in the best interest of a child before, during and after court proceedings.”
Advocates are sworn in as officers of the court. Janetzko said CASA never gets involved unless a judge sees a need, in which case a court order is issued by the judge to appoint an advocate.
Janetzko noted CASA is not a replacement for other services that exist, like the Department of Children’s Services or Child Protective Services.
“They really are only doing this because they care about these children,” Janetzko said. “You can never have too many eyes looking out for a child’s best interest.”
Jane Wright works with CASA in Polk County. She shared the story of a young brother and sister with whom she worked and still maintains contact.
“These children are still here, and I’m still in their lives,” Wright said. “They’re growing and doing so well now.”
Janetzko also spoke about an upcoming fundraiser: CASA’s New Year’s Eve Party. Scheduled for 8 p.m. to midnight on Tuesday, Dec. 31, tickets are $70 to $80, and are available online at www.eventbrite.com.
Also, to help CASA of Bradley and Polk Counties with its work, Women United presented a $1,000 contribution to CASA.
Janetzko said the local CASA organization has about 19 volunteers, but about 40 are needed.
To become an advocate, interested individuals should submit a resume, turn in references, complete an interview, pass a background check, complete 30 hours of training, shadow a CASA case manager in court, be sworn in by a judge and complete 12 hours of continued training each year.
CASA training sessions cover how to look out for the best interest of the child, how to safely conduct home visits, interviewing techniques, child welfare best practices and how to write court reports.
For more information, contact CASA of Bradley and Polk Counties at 423-472-5800, or visit www.casabp.org.
Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE
Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE
We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.
If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.
Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE