The Times West Virginian

December 19, 2013

CASA volunteers ‘advocate on the behalf of the child in the courtroom’

By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Four Marion County residents are taking on a new role in the community.

On Wednesday, Charlotte Anderson, Donna Blaney, Tenille Wyer and Cheryl Wilmoth were sworn in as the newest volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) of Marion County. Each new volunteer took her oath in Marion Circuit Court Judge David R. Janes’ courtroom at the Marion County Courthouse.

Kim Baker, director of CASA, said volunteers with the organization act as the voice of abused and neglected children who are involved in the court system. She said every volunteer has to go through more than 30 hours of training and several background checks.

Once volunteers are sworn in, Baker said they receive the cases they will be working on.

“There are cases waiting on CASA,” she said. “Unfortunately, in Marion County we do not have enough volunteers for all the cases on the court’s docket.”

Baker said volunteers start by doing an independent assessment of what is in the best interest of the child who they are working with.

“That’s what they’re trained to do, to advocate on the behalf of the child in the courtroom,” she said. “They’re the bridge of communication for what the child’s needs are to the other professionals. They’re a support system.”

Volunteers will do everything from talking with the child’s neighbor or teacher to visiting with the child throughout the experience. They will also talk to the child about how they’re feeling and advocate for them.

“They get to know everyone who is involved in the case and talk with everyone involved,” Baker said.

Baker said the benefits of having a CASA volunteer working with a child is that their only focus is on the particular child.

“The volunteers have made a commitment to that child until he or she has found a permanent living situation,” she said. “Our CASAs only have one case at a time; they’re easily accessible to get that child’s needs met.”

After taking their oath, Judge Janes reminded the volunteers their reason for being on cases.

“You are the voice of the children,” he said. “I rely greatly on you all as well as the other witnesses in the process. I’m a firm believer that when everyone does their job and works independently, then all the pieces will come together.”

Wilmoth said a personal reason was why she wanted to volunteer as a CASA, and she wants to be the voice for children who don’t have one.

“There are kids whose parents really don’t stand up for or care for them,” she said. “Some don’t advocate for their child, and I felt like I wanted to stand in that gap for kids who need someone to speak out for them.”

With the training Wilmoth and other volunteers go through, she said she feels prepared to advocate for children but is nervous at the same time.

“You learn the nuts and bolts of how things work,” Wilmoth said. “I am nervous because it scares me to think that somebody’s future can rely on what I say, but I am excited to help someone.”

Email Emily Gallagher at egallagher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.