The need for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) has never been greater. Ocmulgee CASA serves the abused and neglected children of the eight-county Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit. Its mission is to provide community volunteers to serve as independent voices in court for abused and neglected children in the circuit.
The CASA recommendations concerning any child placed in its care are an important part of what they do. The court listens very carefully, giving substantial weight to the CASA recommendation. That’s what Court Appointed Special Advocates means – special advocates who are all volunteers, and who remain assigned to a child throughout his or her time in the court system, sometimes being the only constant face the child sees.
However, everyone should know that CASAs do so much more than just make recommendations to the court. There are many instances of CASAs going the extra distance to help a child. CASAs have found relatives to care for the children, driven hours to visit children who are placed far away and they have advocated for their educational needs when there was no one else. The CASA is a constant in the lives of children who have never experienced constancy from grown-ups.
CASA is an official part of judicial court proceedings and they are appointed by Juvenile Court Judge, Philip B. Spivey. Georgia Legislators recently passed HB 270 that was signed into law by the Governor in May. HB 270 cemented Court Appointed Special Advocates roles and responsibilities in juvenile proceedings. It formalized their standing in the courts. Recently there has been a push in Georgia to make sure that abused children are well-represented in court by both attorneys and CASA. Because of this Judge Spivey has asked that every child in deprivation proceedings be appointed a CASA.
While being an advocate is very emotionally rewarding, it’s not easy; after an initial interview, criminal background check, fingerprinting, and filling out an extensive application, there is a 30 hour training course and court room observation to complete. After that, the judge swears the CASA in as an official part of the proceedings.
Much is expected from the volunteers, but they are special people. Not everyone can do it. It takes someone who really cares about the outcomes of abused children. They have to be willing to spend about 10 hours a month visiting the children, attending meetings, going to court, and monitoring their case. They are required to be 21 years of age, be able to pass all the background checks, and have a genuine care for abused children. CASAs can change a child’s life and be a hero to an abused child.