by Allison Hurtado, CASA Community Outreach Specialist
Astory in the news of a young child pulled from an allegedly abusive situation struck a chord with Prescott resident Capri Barney several years ago. That’s because, at the time, she was preparing to become an advocate for a child in the foster care system through a volunteer program called CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate.
The program recruits and trains everyday community members to get to know a child and the circumstances that have brought him or her into the foster care system. Information gathered goes back to the judge, who will eventually decide the child’s fate — whether they return home or are adopted.
It’s a role Barney considered for nearly 10 years before she decided the time was right, and was appointed to the case of that young child.
“It has been such a great experience being in this child’s life,” she said. “We’ve seen therapists come and go, foster parents come and go, parents come and go, extended family members come and go — yet I’ve been there the entire time. It’s been a very rewarding experience to not only spend time with the child, but also advocate for him on a court level to try to find what’s best for him.”
There are more than 60 CASA volunteers in Yavapai County, supported by a staff of program coordinators who are there to help answer questions that come up and ensure the safety of volunteers.
“Anybody who has the time, they would have the support,” said Don Biele, a CASA advocate in Yavapai County for more than two years. “Starting out, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but the staff guided me through it. Every time I have a question, they have an answer.”
Biele said he decided to become a CASA volunteer after retiring. He thought it would be similar to other mentoring programs around the state, but has found it’s more than that. Not only do CASA volunteers spend time with the children twice a month — doing things like going to the park, the movies or the mall — but they also have the ability to review all the documents in the case and reach out to the child’s doctor, teacher, therapist, case manager or foster placement for more information.
This focus is what has made the program so successful. Children with a CASA volunteer on their cases have been found to spend less time in foster care and even perform better in school.
“Through my entire career, it was real easy to throw donations at causes, but not always time,” Biele said. “With this program, what CASA needs is not money; they need the time of individuals who get to know the kids and are able to advocate for them. There’s no other way to do it.”
Volunteers for the program must be 21 years of age or older and pass a thorough background check. Advocates go through 30 hours of training before being appointed to a case. There is a great need for more advocates in Yavapai County, where there are more than 400 kids in the foster care system.
“The best part is just knowing that I’m doing something to help a child who couldn’t do it for himself,” Barney said. “I can see there are so many children with so much potential, but they need someone who is willing to devote some time to them to help them reach their potential. Every child deserves someone in their corner.”
For more information on the program visit CASAofYavapaiCounty.org or call 928-771-3165.