CASA program seeks volunteers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 16, 2003

A 2-year-old and a 4-year-old are taken from their parents.

The children go to live with their grandparents across Shelby County.

Juvenile Court Judge Patricia Smith offers the parents a chance to have their children returned.

Clean up your lives, she tells them. Then you may get your children back.

The parents have problems that Judge Smith sees in her court day after day &045; addiction problems, domestic abuse problems.

These problems cause difficulties in the children &045; withdrawal, school troubles, neglect and in the worst cases, signs of physical, mental or sexual abuse.

Judge Smith allows the children to live with the grandparents and orders the two parents into counseling, the mother for a drug addiction and the father for domestic violence.

At the same time, she orders a Court Appointed Special Advocate to keep a close watch on the situation to ensure that her orders are strictly followed.

Some two years later, the children return to live with their parents, now clean and better able to handle the pressures of everyday life.

The mother has been clean for months, and the father has completed a series of domestic abuse classes offered through the Shelby County Work Release Center.

Both have held down jobs for some time now.

They are currently enjoying life with their children and working to have a better relationship with their children’s grandparents.

The CASA mission is complete and one family is farther down the road to recovery.

The CASA program was started in Shelby County in the 1995 by Judge Smith.

CASA is a nonprofit organization that recruits and trains volunteers to go through the court process with abused and neglected children.

These volunteers work tirelessly as a child’s &uot;voice&uot; in court.

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, according to Judge Smith.

The CASA program began in Seattle, Wash., 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.

In Shelby County, the program has grown to 43 active volunteers, according to volunteer coordinator Mac Stinson.

Stinson said currently, the volunteers are working on 28 cases.

Judge Smith told a group of CASA volunteers recently to focus on their mission.

&uot;Remember why we do what we do,&uot; she said. &uot;You’re truly helping the neediest of our children.&uot;

The Shelby County CASA program is currently recruiting a new class of volunteers.

The next training session will begin Oct. 7, meeting two nights a week for about six weeks.

Call Stinson at 669-6498 if you are truly interested in making a difference in a child’s life