In these uncertain times due to COVID-19, with the closure of schools and businesses, the loss of jobs, and social isolation, families everywhere are struggling. Add to this the opioid crisis and drug addiction problems in New Hampshire, and we see children and families in more stressful situations than ever before. The risk of child abuse and neglect is rising exponentially.
If you want to have a positive impact for children who are at risk and who are involved with the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and the family court system, please take some time to learn about becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer. CASA of New Hampshire is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the right of every child to grow up with a loving and supportive family. There are CASA programs in all 50 states in the United States.
A CASA volunteer advocates in court and with other systems for the best interest of children who are involved with the DCYF because of risky and unsafe living situations. One can become a CASA volunteer whether still working or retired; one can come from any walk of life or career.
I became aware of CASA during 20 years of clinical pediatric practice in New Jersey. During that time, I often saw the positive impact that a CASA volunteer had on a child’s outcome. For years, before retiring, I often said, “I would like to be a CASA volunteer when I grow up!”
Once I retired and moved back to New Hampshire I did become a CASA volunteer, in 2017, and have found this to be the most meaningful type of hands-on volunteer work. CASA of New Hampshire provides extensive ongoing training, advice, and support. Since COVID-19 began spreading, the initial CASA training and monthly support groups are provided via Zoom.
A CASA volunteer usually takes on one case at a time, which involves 10 to 20 hours per month of time. A CASA volunteer visits their child(ren) at least once a month at their homes, foster care homes, and/or residential placements. Many of these visits have also been conducted virtually these last many weeks.
A CASA volunteer is involved with many systems: families and foster care providers, schools, daycares, medical and mental health providers, and, of course, DCYF and the New Hampshire Family Court. A CASA volunteer is the continuity and the voice for the child(ren)’s best interests for the duration of the Court’s involvement, which may range from one to three years. As a CASA volunteer one must be willing to speak out and to be creative.
Unfortunately, at this time we have more than 1,500 children in New Hampshire who are court-involved and are under supervision by DCYF. All these children need a CASA volunteer. Please consider becoming involved in CASA and doing this gratifying hard work.
CASA’s next virtual training begins on September 16, and virtual information sessions are held every other week. Learn more at CASAnh.org.