CASA seeks volunteers to help kids

Graduates of Polk County CASA from the spring 2016 training.

Thomas Christ
Graduates of Polk County CASA from the spring 2016 training.

DALLAS — Polk County CASA (Court-appointed Special Advocates) is ever-so-close to achieving its goal to provide a CASA for every child in foster care, but it needs more volunteers to get there.

CASA’s next training class begins on Friday, and Volunteer Coordinator Susan McNaught wants to fill it.

“Right now, we have about 100 kids in care in this county,” she said. “About 80 percent of them have CASAs, and we would really like to have all our kids have CASAs. We are always looking for more.”

You can help

What: Polk County CASA spring training.

When: Orientation is Friday for the 10-week training course, 5 to 6 p.m.; training classes are held every Friday 3 to 6 p.m.

Where: Orientation is at the Polk County Courthouse conference room, 850 Main St., Dallas. Weekly training sessions are at the Academy Building, room 214, 182 SW Academy St., Dallas.

For more information or to sign up: 503-623-8473 or email casaofpolkcounty@....

Volunteers need to pass a background check, complete 10 weeks of training, be willing to offer two years of their time at about 10 to 15 hours per month, per case.

That may sound like a lot — and the cases can be difficult — but McNaught said volunteers are given strong support and the work is critical, perhaps more so now that a recent Oregon Secretary of State’s audit revealed struggles statewide in caring for children in foster care.

“The situations are heartbreaking, but to know that you can make a difference in the outcome of this child’s life, to know that you can help provide some stability,” she said. “It is very rewarding.”

CASAs are appointed by a judge and have the sole purpose of advocating for the child’s best interest. They make home visits, school visits, and even go along on doctor’s appointments. They provide reports to the court at hearings and can make recommendations on behalf of the child.

Volunteers select their cases but should be prepared to deal with trying circumstances in some cases, McNaught said.

The goal is to keep parents and children together, so those cases where children are placed in foster care are the most serious.

“One of the things that we’ve found with CASA, especially with the older kids, a lot times, they may change social workers, they may change schools, or they may change homes,” she said. “CASA is the consistent in their lives and is the one person that they know will be there. We ask for a two-year commitment because we want to make sure those kids don’t get abandoned again.”

McNaught, who serves as a CASA in addition to as the program’s volunteer coordinator, said judges in Polk County take CASA observations and recommendations seriously.

“Having another set of ears and eyes sometimes is helpful. We are there to advocate for the kid’s best interest,” McNaught said. “Everybody else has a cause — the parents have their thing, the foster parents have their perspective, DHS has its. We’re just there for the kid.”

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