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Abused, neglected kids get special advocates

By: Menka Belgal, Telegraph Correspondent
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Advocates for children gathered recently to recognize new board members for the organization. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of El Dorado board members, advocates, supporters and others eager to learn more about the organization, came together at Bistro 33’s Side Bar Café Friday evening. At this community outreach event, CASA was trying to recruit more volunteers, and welcome its newest board members, John Adams and Julie Van Doreen. The Side Bar Café donated a portion of its wine purchases to CASA. The wine was provided by David Girard Vineyards and Cielo Estates. Adams has many years of private-sector experience and consulting experience in nonprofit organizations. He also received the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2009. Van Doreen hopes to add some of her expertise to her new role. She currently works for the American Cancer Society with fundraising. “I’ll visit the court,” she said, “and tell stories of what we do. How CASA gets involved and how it makes a difference.” CASA is a non-profit organization that was created in 1977 and has grown to 1,000 offices nationwide. In El Dorado County alone, they have offices in Placerville and South Lake Tahoe. CASA trains volunteers to become court appointed special advocates for abused and neglected children who end up in foster care. The volunteers represent the interest of the child in foster care. Around 430 children in El Dorado County in 2009 had court appointed advocates. Volunteers get to know the child and the people in the child’s life in-depth, in order to empower them to make informed decisions to create a comprehensive plan for the child. Reunification with the family is always the ultimate goal for the CASA advocates. However, according to Adams, it happens only 50 to 60 percent of the time. “It’s tough work and not for everyone,” said Adams. “These kids have been through a lot.” CASA receives state funding through the Judicial Council of California and funding from the El Dorado Superior Court, private donations, grants, and three major fundraisers. Val Martell from Placerville, a CASA advocate, encourages people to join CASA. “There are a lot of CASA opportunities if you don’t have the time to be an advocate, like volunteering at fundraising events such as the box lunches that are sold to a number of companies,” Martell said. To become an advocate, volunteers have to go through 30 hours of training and six hours of court observation. Additionally, they have to have 12 hours per year of continuing education. Volunteers don’t need any specific background and come from all walks of life. Reid Briggs, a CASA advocate, said training was fun. Now that he’s out in the real world, Briggs said, “Some of the situations are challenging. It’s amazing how (the kids) have survived so long.” “As difficult and sad as all this is, we do make a difference,” said Adams. Studies mandated by Congress and the Department of Justice to evaluate the effectiveness of CASA have shown that children have a higher likelihood of being adopted, families receive more services, and the likelihood of children spending time in long-term foster care (three years and more), decreases significantly. To learn more about CASA, visit casaeldorado.org.