CASA volunteers are desperately needed in Erath County.

Last year, 73 children were removed from their homes in Stephenville and Dublin and placed into foster care because of abuse or neglect, and that number is expected to increase for 2007, according to Alana Hefner, CASA program director for the Cross Timbers area.

Currently there are about 10 children that CASA is unable to serve because of a lack of volunteers, Hefner said.

What is CASA?

C(ourt) eyes and ears of the court;

A(ppointed) to cases by Judge Don Jones or Judge Bart McDougal

S(pecial) volunteer for each child or sibling group

A(dvocate) one who speaks for another

When Child Protective Services removes children from their homes a CASA volunteer is assigned to advocate for the child.

“We have about 23 volunteers. The need has surpassed our volunteer pool,” Hefner said. “Typically a volunteer can only accept one case at a time. Children removed within the past four months are going unserved because CASA was unable to provide them with a volunteer.”

Hefner said that during the four years she has been with the organization she has seen a steady increase in the number of children removed from homes. Particularly, she said, when the local task force was dedicated specifically to deal with the drug problem, the number of children removed from homes increased.

Hefner said because the organization is not bound by the policy and procedures set forth for Child Protective Services it can provide a more common sense approach in advocating for children. A volunteer can make recommendations based on the best interest of the child to the judge hearing the case.

“The advocacy goes beyond the courtroom,” Hefner said. “We try to provide the common sense approach outside of the courtroom as well. We work behind the scenes with all the team players including attorneys, caseworkers, counselors, teachers, parents and family to make recommendations that are in the best interest of the child.”

Hefner admits it is not easy to become a child advocate for CASA.

Anyone interested should have a flexible schedule to be able to attend hearings and meetings, access to transportation, the commitment to complete a 30-hour training course and a willingness to devote one year to complete an assigned case. No advanced degrees or prior legal experience is necessary. Volunteers are provided with guidance, support and training to be a successful qualified child advocate.

Individuals interested in serving as the court’s eyes and ears to help the judge with critical decisions and with a concern for children and a genuine desire to help should make plans to attend training classes.

There are four classes that make up 16 hours of the training required. The remaining hours must be completed individually with a training manual, videos and courtroom observations.

The application deadline is Friday, May 18, and the classes are from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on May 31, June 4, June 18 and June 25.

For more information, contact CASA at 254-965-6610 or e-mail at alana@casacta.org.