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There are currently 162 children in care in Columbia County. 126 of those are in foster homes. And the number of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)? That number is 27 … leaving around 90 children unrepresented.

CASA for children of Multnomah, Washington and Columbia Counties is making a push to bring in new volunteers this year, hoping to

add at least 30 more to represent children in our area. “Our children need this,” CASA volunteer recruiter Monica Rush said. “A child in foster care is entitled to a CASA and we currently don’t have enough to cover that need.”

Oregon law states that every abused and neglected child in protective custody is entitled to a CASA. Judges refer the most serious cases to CASA so that one volunteer can build a relationship with a child to ensure the child is receiving the support and attention he or she needs while going through the foster care system.

“Their main goal is to gather information on foster kids in the file and then they’re responsible for filling out a court report,” Rush said. “They visit the kids in the foster home at least once a month, and they talk. They’re entitled to any information on that child from DHS or therapists or counselors.”

A CASA volunteer then takes that information and makes a recommendation to the judge as to what they think is the best course of action for the child. “Our judges are really good. They tell us they listen more to what a CASA has to say than to the attorneys or DHS,” CASA Program Manager Karin Miller said. The recommendation of a CASA can carry more weight because many attorneys oversee multiple cases, while a CASA volunteer oversees one case at a time. “The judge knows when they go in that they really know what’s going on with that case, so he really listens closely to what their recommendations are.”

Almost anyone can aid in this important work, and ultimately, it simply takes the commitment to working 10 to 20 hours a month for a two-year period. Those two years ensure that a child will have the same point of contact and a certain consistency as they navigate their way through the foster care system. All volunteers will receive the necessary training to complete the work.

To become a CASA volunteer, an individual must only meet the following requirements:

*Satisfactorily complete initial and on-going training requirements

*Maintain strict confidentiality

*Maintain current and complete file on each assigned case

*Keep CASA supervisor informed regarding the status of the case and confer as necessary

*Attend court proceedings and interagency meetings on the case

*Maintain strict adherence to program policies, guidelines, CASA role and ethics standards

*Be aware of deadlines and timetables involved in an assigned case, and turn in all reports on time

*Maintain cooperative relationships/interaction with children and adults involved

*Terminate involvement with child/family at conclusion of court appointment

Miller said many of their volunteers are retired or getting close to retirement, but they also have 20 and 30-year-olds that have made the commitment. The only concern with a working individual is that their employer understands when or if there’s a day they may have to make it to court to advocate for a child.

A CASA volunteer’s work has been proven successful over the years. An average of 16 percent of children in foster care will re-enter the system a second time. For those represented by CASA, that number drops to nine percent. CASA also helps keep children from being “bounced around” in the system. The average child will be placed an average of 6.6 times in various homes. For CASA children, that number drops to 3.9.

Rush will meet anyone willing to volunteer on their own terms to bring them into the work. She will meet you for coffee, whenever and wherever, to discuss CASA’s needs and explain the work. Her next recruitment orientation is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. on Feb 19 at 2514 Sykes Road. “We also have a class coming up in March and right now it looks like we might have ten people, which will be our biggest class yet, so we’re so excited,” Rush said.

Additionally, Rush is looking for more recruitment opportunities at churches, school groups, men’s groups … wherever this is something going on in Columbia County. “I can come in and do a five-minute presentation. I especially really need men in this county,” she said.

To help Rush reach these recruitment goals, or to volunteer to become a CASA, contact Rush at 503-410-5097 or by emailing mrush@casahelpskids.org.

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