Honorable Judge Lara Russell, Special District Judge for Rogers County, administered the oath of office recently to Rhonda Little and Rachel Winfrey, who will serve as new Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
CASA volunteers serve as the eyes and ears of the judge, taking an in-depth look into a child’s life and reporting back with a recommendation about what is best for the child going forward. They help kids secure a safe, permanent and nurturing home.
Prior to being sworn in, both Little and Winfrey completed 30 hours of pre-service training through Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma, the local CASA agency. The training is thorough, typically including classroom attendance, guest speakers, a comprehensive training manual, online resources, report writing practice, and court observation.
Little will soon officially retire and have more time to spend doing the things she loves – spending time with family, especially her grandchildren, quilting, traveling, going to the movies, and reading. Little enjoys being around children and remarks that it keeps her young. When asked why she became a CASA she said, “As a former foster parent, I know the need children have and the shortage of volunteers.”
Winfrey is back in school as a med student. She has a great passion for serving kids in need. Talking about her future goals, Winfrey said, “I want to help children in need. My goal is to become a pediatric psychiatrist. I believe this will provide a great foundation.” She went on to say, “My mentor and inspiration was a CASA.”
Once trained and sworn in, CASA volunteers are then appointed by a juvenile court judge to a case of an abused or neglected child in the foster care system. The volunteer serves as an extra set of eyes and ears for the court.
CASA volunteers spend an average of eight to ten hours a month developing a rapport with the child through regular in-person meetings. In addition, CASA volunteers gather in-depth information about the child by talking with everyone in that child’s life: parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers and others. They use the information they gather to inform judges and others of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them.
Volunteers are everyday citizens with a common desire to improve the quality of life for a child who has been removed from his or her family due to abuse or neglect. We welcome people from all walks of life. We are simply looking for people who care about children, who have common sense, and who have good investigative skills.
Many more CASA volunteers are needed. According to the 2017 Court Clerk’s Office records, CASA volunteers served only about 31 percent of the active cases in the five counties the agency serves.
There are no special degrees or experience needed to serve a CASA volunteer. The requirements include being at least 21 years of age, a U.S. citizen, and the ability to pass a thorough screening process including a background check. All training for the volunteer position is provided at no cost to the volunteer. Simply put, CASA needs critical thinkers and a “heart for children”.
You can learn more about CASA on the agency website: http://cano-casa.com/volunteer. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a CASA volunteer, contact Gayle Hanson, Training Coordinator. You can reach Gayle at 785-623-6955 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People who are unable to volunteer but want to support the work of CASA volunteers can donate online at http://cano-casa.com/ways-to-give/.
Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma/CASA
Child Advocates of Northeastern Oklahoma is a CASA agency that recruits, trains, and supports community volunteers to be the “voice” for abused and neglected children in the judicial system.
With offices in Claremore and Miami, the organization supports CASA volunteers throughout northeastern Oklahoma – Rogers, Mayes, Craig, Ottawa, and Delaware Counties. The agency also serves the courts of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma.
Child Advocates of Northeastern Oklahoma is a member agency of the United Way of Rogers and Mayes Counties and the Ottawa County United Way.
People interested in learning more about CASA can find information about on the agency’s website: http://cano-casa.com/. To support the work of our CASA volunteers, go to http://cano-casa.com/ways-to-give/ and click on the “donate” button.