The sensitive area of child welfare court cases is one with tremendous needs, and a local advocacy office that works in the judicial system of three Northwest Georgia counties just received a big boost to help meet them.
Court-Appointed Special Advocates, a national organization that operates in 49 states, has awarded Lookout Mountain CASA a $40,000 grant that will go a long way toward improving child welfare services in Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties, says program director Carleena Angwin.
We are one of 12 CASA programs from across the country awarded a new program development grant," Angwin said.
Lookout Mountain CASA is one of more than 950 CASA program offices nationwide. About 100 were eligible for this years round of grant money, according to Angwin.
CASA programs rely on volunteers, themselves called CASAs, whom they train to represent the interests of abused and neglected children who are caught up in the foster care and court system.
"A CASAs job is to make sure that the children don't get lost in the legal system or fade away in a group or foster home," Angwin said.
CASAs, who are sworn into their positions by a judge, visit the children and research their cases thoroughly so as to be prepared to speak with authority before the court on their behalf.
Becoming a CASA is an involved process and a serious commitment. Lookout Mountain CASA requires signing on for a one-year term, and volunteers must complete 30 hours of training along with 10 hours of courtroom observation.
Angwin said awarding of the grants is based on the need for CASA to grow in the community.
Currently we have 14 volunteers and serve about 12 percent of the children in foster care in our three counties."
She says that the grant will be helpful in reaching Lookout Mountain CASAs goal of tripling the number of volunteers and serving 50 percent of children in the court system within the next year.
"This is a renewable grant that we can continually apply for each year, and it will help fund an additional part-time salary as well as purchase new technology, recruitment and training materials," Angwin said.
The part-time position, which Angwin hopes to hire in July or August and hopes can someday be full time, will be for a volunteer coordinator to help with the influx of new volunteer advocates.
Angwin, who is currently the only paid employee of Lookout Mountain CASA, also pointed out that some of the computer equipment they currently use is well over 10 years old.
Another goal for the program is to improve the diversity of the volunteers who come in, which Angwin said means recruiting more men and minorities to be CASAs.
"Ideally we want our volunteers to represent the population that we serve," she said.
The CASA program had formerly operated out of LaFayette under the auspices of the family advocacy organization Four Points, but was discontinued in 2005.
Angwin said that fortunately by the end of that year the Childrens Advocacy Center in Fort Oglethorpe agreed to be the local umbrella organization for a reorganized CASA, and so the program was reinstated with a new group of volunteer CASAs who began taking cases in the spring of 2006.
Since that time Lookout Mountain CASAs have advocated for more than 50 foster children in its three-county service area.
More than 50,000 men and women serve as CASA volunteers nationwide. To inquire about volunteer opportunities contact Lookout Mountain CASA at (423) 255-6146. More information and volunteer applications are available at www.LookoutMountainCASA.org or www.NationalCASA.org.
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