With its next training session starting Tuesday, Bartow Court Appointed Special Advocates' representatives are actively seeking additional volunteers to take part in "putting children first." Spanning eight weeks, the complimentary class will be presented Tuesdays at 6 p.m. at 654 Joe Frank Harris Parkway in Cartersville.
"The volunteer’s role is to visit with the child regularly and build a relationship with the child, letting the child know that they are their advocate in court, and that they are there only because they care about the child, not because they are being paid to be their advocate," Bartow CASA Program Director Ava Lipscomb said. "The volunteer will also talk with everyone who knows anything about the child and family. This may include family members, school personnel, day care providers, doctors, neighbors, counselors, etc. This information is gathered by the volunteer and presented to the court in a written report.
"Where DFCS [Division of Family and Children Services] case managers have multiple cases, most CASA volunteers have only one or two cases, depending on the CASA’s availability. CASA volunteers have more time to focus on the child and family and have the time to give the case more attention. The court will hopefully be able to make a more informed decision because of the information the CASA volunteer provides. Since I’ve been in this business so long, I’ve seen children we’ve worked with become parents that we work with now. This is when I feel the system has failed this child and family."
Based in Cartersville, Bartow CASA operates under the umbrella of Advocates for Children. Along with operating Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter, the nonprofit provides numerous programs that aid in the awareness, prevention and treatment of child abuse.
According to advochild.org, "To be a CASA volunteer, one must be over 21 years old, have good transportation and complete 40 hours of training — some online, some in the classroom and some in court observation. We also do a complete background check, including fingerprinting, criminal history and DFCS record searches.
"After training is completed, there is usually much less court time needed, plus our staff attends court with you — so if you can’t be there, we will attend for you. There is also 12 hours of in-service training each year. We offer many opportunities for our volunteers to get those hours. The training is the biggest concentration of time that needs to be spent. We try diligently to match your case to your time availability once you have completed training and are sworn-in by the judge."
For Lipscomb, a part-time position has turned into a fulfilling career with Bartow CASA.
"I’ve been with Advocates for almost 18 years in this role," she said. "Prior to taking this position, I had been a child protective service worker with DFCS in two other counties for approximately 12 years. At the last county where I worked, we had a CASA program, and I thought it was a pretty good program, but I recognized how it could do so much more for the children and for DFCS.
"When this position became available, even though it was only part time, I convinced my husband that it would become full time, and that it would be a great service to the children and families in our county. I had a vision for what I wanted this program to become. Luckily, I’ve been able to achieve a large part of my vision. I have a wonderful staff and volunteers with a focus on integrity and putting the children first, who could ask for more than that?"
For more information about the upcoming CASA training, contact Lipscomb at 770-386-1060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.