Pam Lord’s path to Advocates for Children’s CASA program wasn’t a direct route.
“I have had some other opportunities to do some volunteer tutoring, and I was just looking for another one. I started out looking at the SKORE program. … But it had timed out of its grant, and people kept telling me to get in touch with CASA, that I might like CASA. And so I did,” Lord said. “When I went to see Ava, there was a class that was just being formed and so I thought, ‘Well, yeah.’ This would be working with kids and it would be sort of a new learning curve for me, and that that might be good for me, as well as for the kids.”
Locally, the CASA, or court-appointed special advocate, program was founded in 2000 with the first volunteers sworn in by a juvenile court judge in June 2001. But the basis for the program began decades before across the country.
“In 1977, a Seattle juvenile court judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. From that first program has grown a network of nearly 1,000 CASA programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia,” said Advocates’ CASA Program Director Ava Lipscomb.
With a mission “to strengthen our community of families by offering safety, comfort, and hope to children and preventing child abuse in all its forms,” CASA volunteers are crucial to meeting the needs of children in the care of the Division of Family and Children Services.
“The CASA volunteer is able to talk to anyone that knows the child, including teachers, doctors, neighbors, day care providers, relatives, etc. By talking to so many people and evaluating all parts of the child’s life, they are able to give the judge a written report regarding the information they have received and make recommendations on what they think will be in the best interest of the child and living arrangements for these children,” Lipscomb said. “CASA volunteers are a big part of Advocates’ mission by the work and dedication they give to these children in need.”
But, with more than 330 children in DFCS care in Bartow County, Advocates faces a shortage of CASA volunteers.
“We currently have 89 volunteers, but with 332 children in foster care in Bartow County, we need more CASA volunteers. Currently, there are 67 children without a CASA volunteer in Bartow County,” Lipscomb said.
“Our DFCS case managers are carrying between 45 and 50 cases each. It is virtually impossible for them to meet their requirements on such a large number of cases,” she continued.“Can you imagine trying to keep up with the well-being of 45 [to] 50 children by yourself? CASA volunteers typically have one to two cases at a time, so CASA is there to make ensure that children don’t ‘fall through the cracks.’”
For Lord, the compassion and care expressed at every level of the program is staggering.
“One of the most astonishing things that I have observed is the care and the commitment that everybody I have met up at the juvenile court has towards these young people and their well-being and their success in life and their need for a good foundation for that success,” she said. “I mean, everybody — the sheriff’s deputies, the secretaries. I mean, everybody wants good things for the young people that come through the juvenile court, and obviously, the judges do. … You can pay people to do a job, but you can’t pay them to care.
“I can’t believe, how come I get to live in a county that has this kind of a thing going on? How wonderful is that?”
With the end goal of placing a child in their forever home, CASAs advocate for the child based on the individual needs and wants of the juvenile.
“CASA thinks outside the box. We don’t have the many regulations that DFCS has to follow,” Lipscomb said. “CASA knows the child, spends time with the child and with the parents. The children have a voice and a spokesperson they would not have otherwise.
“DFCS workers are overloaded with cases and it is physically impossible for them to spend the amount of time a CASA volunteer spends investigating, interviewing and researching what and who will best serve these children. CASA volunteers are the support and voice for these children when they need it the most. For many abused or neglected children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant and stable adult presence in their lives as they travel through the foster care maze.”
Training classes will begin in September. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer must be over 21, have good communication skills and reliable transportation, pass a background check, and complete 40 hours of training — 30 in the classroom and 10 in courtroom observation.
“After training is completed, there is usually much less court time required plus a member of the CASA staff attends court with the CASA volunteer, so if they cannot attend, the CASA staff member will attend for the CASA volunteer,” Lipscomb said. “There is also 12 hours of in-service training each year. We offer many opportunities for our volunteers to get those hours, including our ‘Pizza and Peer’ meetings held each month.”
Lord, a retired teacher, said her advice to potential volunteers is not to allow the legal aspect of the program to stymie their interest.
“When I was taking it, the thing that intimidated me the most was that I have no knowledge of the legal system. I’m not a lawyer; I watch ‘Law & Order’ and that’s about it. I thought you should be a lawyer to do this job … Don’t be intimidated by the legal process,” she said. “As a CASA volunteer, you always have a coordinator. … You can use that coordinator and run things by her and ask her questions. She goes with you to court and she goes with you on home visits, as much as you want her to. You have that, too, as a, well, certainly as a sounding board and as an expert resource.”
A CASA training night class begins Sept. 15 for 10 weeks, and a day class starts Sept. 17 for 10 weeks. Those interested should contact Lipscomb at 770-386-1060 or
or Volunteer Coordinator Kaylee Klewein at 770-387-1143 or
“We do not have enough CASAs for every child in Bartow County foster care. It is difficult for us when a child asks for a CASA and we don’t have anyone available to appoint right away,” Lipscomb said. “Children know that their CASA is someone who visits them, talks with them about their interests, and is someone who is there because they want to help them have a stable and healthy life.”
Advocates for Children offers other volunteer opportunities, “including being a mentor, coordinating a Rainbows support group, bringing a meal, taking on a service project, donating goods and services to the kids to mention a few.”
“We will meet the volunteer where they are comfortable and in what area they would like to volunteer,” Lipscomb said. “We have a full time volunteer coordinator that meets with each person to help them decide the best fit for them and the programs. There is no commitment to come tour or come talk to our coordinator.”
Anyone interested in exploring volunteer possibilities should contact Klewein.