A group dedicated to helping children navigate the turbulent waters of the court system is in need of help.
CASA for Kids, Inc. needs more people to function as court-appointed special advocates. The group is at capacity for the number of kids it can assist.
CASA Executive Director Mary Kilpatrick said the trouble is not a lack of volunteers; rather, it is the rising number of children in need.
Kilpatrick estimates there are close to 3,000 children in Sullivan and Hawkins Counties with some stake in a legal proceeding. That includs children stuck in a custody battle, or with parents or a guardian who ran afoul of the legal system. "Most of our cases at this point in time have a drug involvement," said Kilpatrick.
Currently, there are 106 volunteers to serve Hawkins and Sullivan Counties, but volunteering takes time, and there aren't enough volunteers to go around. "Our court cases are taking longer to get resolved, which means we need more volunteers," said Kilpatrick. "When a volunteer takes a case, that volunteer stays with that case until it is adjudicated or closed."
Kilpatrick said the average case spansthree3 months, but some can take as long as 18. Being an advocate is more than just showing up to court. "We do an extensive investigation and a report that goes to that judge that gives him just a little bit more insight into what is going on in that child's life," said Kilpatrick.
Today's dynamic family situations can complicate the investigation process. "We're looking for permanency and for safety. You have to listen now to everyone," said Kilpatrick. "It used to be a mom and a dad. Now we have such expanded, extended families. One volunteer could interview up to twenty people."
Dottie Slaughter is a new CASA volunteer. At 79, Slaughter said she has more to give. "I want my life to count," she told us.
She spent time with her husband Skip as a missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1960s. Now that she is a widow, Slaughter knows volunteering with CASA is her new mission in life. "It's a major effort because you have reports to write up. And they have to be written up according to the court style," said Slaughter. "It's a big deal. But it's so very rewarding."
"This is not black and white. You have to see shades of gray and you have to look into the best interests of that child," said Kilpatrick.
Kilpatrick said prospective volunteers must go through an intensive background check and interview process, plus 36 hours of training before heading into the courtroom.
Click here for more information on how to volunteer with CASA.