Though resilient and tough, children of abuse and neglect can have a hard road ahead of them. Having someone advocate for the child’s best interest can be invaluable.
If you’ve done some volunteer work previously, or you’ve found yourself with extra time and you’d like to use it in a selfless way, being a court appointed special advocate could be something you may be interested in.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire (CASA) is a non-profit that recruits, trains and supports volunteers within the community that serve as advocates for abused and neglected children throughout the state of New Hampshire.
CASA NH has served over 10,000 children in New Hampshire since it was founded in 1989. There are seven offices throughout New Hampshire and it’s Keene office serves children through the Keene, Hillsboro and Jaffrey courts.
“I have been on board here almost seven years and the type of cases and the complexity of the cases has grown exponentially over the last seven years. About 80 percent of our cases statewide are substance abuse or misuse by parents.” Kathleen Devlin, the program manager in the Keene office, explained.
The Keene office currently has a lack of volunteers. “CASA statewide accepts about 86 percent of referrals from the court system. In the Keene and Cheshire area we have about 26 percent of our cases that we do not accept. So, that means that we have a shortage of volunteers across the board. We have a lack of available CASAs to take on the court cases that are being referred to us,” Devlin said.
“We are always looking for new folks to come on board and provide the services to the court for the advocacy of the children who are being referred to us.”
A CASA’s main goal is to get to know the child and the important people in the child’s life and to provide vital information to the court to help a judge make decisions based on the best interest for the child. The CASA will do this by working directly with the child, agencies such as DCYF, drug and alcohol counselors, parole officers and mental health counselors to gather information about the child’s life.
This volunteer work can be very rewarding to both the child and the volunteer. “I would say without a doubt that 90 percent of the CASAs I have talked to that have done this work for a bit of time have really indicated that it is the most impactful volunteer job that they have ever had.” Devlin said.
“When we speak with our advocates more often, we hear that it is very hard work, but it is the most rewarding volunteer work our volunteers have ever done. Because you are truly making a difference in a child’s life. You are changing their story.” Johanna Lawrence, public relations manager of CASA of NH, said.
You don’t have to have any previous knowledge or background — CASAs go through forty hours of training before becoming volunteers. They also go through a rigorous background check and application process. “It is also important to know that they have a staff of program managers and on-staff attorneys backing them, so they have support to do this very important work.” Devlin added.
Because of the pandemic, all training sessions are now held online. “It is a dynamic, engaging, interactive and fantastic 40-hour experience. We’ve been doing it now for over a year and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.” Lawrence explained.
Time commitment for being a CASA volunteer can vary greatly based on what type of case and where you are in that case. A basic case could be about five hours per child, per month. But, Devlin said, it really depends on the severity of the case.
CASA of NH is urging community members in the greater Monadnock Region to join one of their information sessions to learn more about what it’s like to be a CASA and how to become one.
They have information sessions about once a week on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Their next information session will be held online on July 7 at 5:30 p.m.
In this session you can expect to learn more about the role of a CASA, information on the training involved, the support that would be provided and a CASA volunteer will be available to speak about what it’s like to be a child advocate. At the end of the session, they will explain how to apply for the volunteer position.
For a schedule of information sessions and to register for the next one, visit casanh.org and click on “Info Sessions.”