CASA serves to save children

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2002

A man is caught raping and sodomizing his 19-day-old daughter. A 10-year-old tells of huddling in the closet with his 4-year-old sister in an attempt to stay away from his alcoholic, abusive mother.

It happens every day in the United States, in Alabama and right here in Shelby County.

According to Millie Anglin, who helped to introduce the concept of Court Appointed Special Advocates to Alabama, children are neglected, physically and sexually abused and abandoned every day.

Each year in Alabama, in fact, there are at least 6,000 new victims of child abuse and neglect.

That is the reason for the CASA program, Anglin said.

&uot;A safe and nurturing home is a necessity. We must save the children to save ourselves,&uot; she said.

Anglin spoke to members of the Shelby County CASA board of directors recently.

The CASA program began in Seattle, Wash., she told the board, where a juvenile court judge began to recruit and train volunteers to make independent recommendations to the court.

Since that time, the program has blossomed to include 62,000 volunteers in 900 programs in all 50 states.

&uot;The CASA movement places the child at the center of the process,&uot; Anglin said. &uot;The juvenile court system was originally designed that way, but eventually, the children were lost in the system.

&uot;Every dependent child deserves access to a person who can be their voice in court. A CASA is that person.&uot;

Anglin said CASA program began to show up in individual counties in Alabama, first Jefferson in 1985 then Madison in 1988.

In 1993, Anglin, who was then working with the Madison County program, attended a national meeting of the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association.

&uot;I returned from that meeting very inspired,&uot; she said.

She met with the directors from Birmingham and a representative from Montgomery with the primary goal of expanding the CASA program across Alabama.

The next year, the state received a grant from the national program, and the program began to take off.

In the mid 1990s, programs began in Shelby, Marshall and Mobile counties.

&uot;Others have attempted but failed due to lack of funding,&uot;Anglin said.

Shelby County’s program began due to the hard work of Juvenile Court Judge Patti Smith, and funding has continued due to the hard work of CASA director Beth Chapman.

The program trains volunteers to serve &uot;as a child’s voice in court,&uot; Anglin said.

In doing that, the specific tasks vary, she said.

The juvenile court judge appoints a CASA to investigate a situation, perform a home study, oversee visitation, screen for drugs and alcohol and much more.

&uot;The CASA takes accurate notes and puts the puzzle together,&uot; she said. &uot;Then the CASA courageously and confidently makes their case.

&uot;Finally, the judge hears reports from all sides &045; the CASA, the guardian ad litem, DHR and other attorneys; and the child is placed in a safe, loving, nurturing home. There is success when the child’s best interests are served.&uot;

Anglin said she has seen the program in action, and it works.

&uot;There are children who have a better life because of a CASA,&uot; she said.

&uot;Alabama, as in many other things, is far behind and has a way to go to even catch up. With CASA, abused and neglected children have a chance at productive lives.&uot;

In Shelby County, the recent class of volunteers was the largest with 15 completing the 30 hours of intensive training.

The program currently has 37 volunteers and is receiving orders for one or two cases each week, according to volunteer coordinator Mac Stinson.

The next class for volunteers will be held this fall. For information or to volunteer, call 985-2999