Jim Metzger, chairman of the board of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Bradley County, recently gave an update to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club on how the organization has been helping children whose families face court situations.
CASA is a national nonprofit organization of volunteers who help ensure the needs of a child are met during court proceedings.
A judge can choose to appoint a specially trained volunteer advocate from CASA to check up on a child and report to the judge on any findings.
Volunteers are generally assigned to one case at a time and perform tasks like visiting a child’s home and supervising interactions between a parent and a child when such supervised meetings are required by the court.
Metzger said volunteers can be asked to serve with any case that involves child welfare, but some cases do involve alleged abuse.
“It’s really sad sometimes to see the things that are going on,” Metzger said.
He explained Bradley County’s CASA chapter has been around for about three and a half years. It is part of a national effort that began as a way to ensure that someone is always advocating for the child in a case where defendants and plaintiffs have their attentions focused on winning.
While most operate on a mostly independent basis, CASA volunteers work with court officials, social workers and the Department of Children’s services to see that children under the age of 18 are taken care of during the process.
The work the volunteers do allows judges to have more information on the child’s situation to make their decisions, information they may not be able to gather on their own.
“The judge cannot be a witness to certain things,” Metzger explained.
Volunteers undergo 30 hours of “pretty intense” training before they are allowed to be court-appointed advocates. The time commitment required of a volunteer after that varies depending on the amount of time court proceedings take.
Metzger said the organization currently has about 20 volunteer advocates, but it is always in need of more because they generally work on just one case at a time.
Judges have begun working with CASA more and more since the local chapter was founded. Metzger said volunteers helped with 80 different cases during its first year. Last year, CASA of Bradley County was involved with 300 cases.
Metzger said CASA provides a service that has always been needed, but he said judges have become more and more comfortable with the idea of letting independent volunteers report on children’s home situations.
After sharing about the organization, he invited those at the meeting to participate in CASA’s event taking place this fall, the Light of Hope Moonlight Walk for Melisha Gibson.
The Moonlight Walk’s namesake was a 4-year-old Cleveland girl who died in 1976 as the result of child abuse. Metzger said Gibson’s case drew unprecedented attention to the issue of child abuse in the community, as well as on the state and national levels.
It was after that event the national CASA organization was founded as a way for judges to receive input from someone in the community who only had the child’s interests in mind.
As a way to continue to honor the girl’s memory and draw attention to the continued prevalence of child abuse, Metzger said CASA decided to name its annual fundraising walk after her.
The fourth annual event will take place on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway, beginning at Raider Drive, on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m.
Money raised at the event will go toward the costs of things like training materials for those who volunteer to be court-appointed advocates.
More information about the walk can be gained by visiting www.ocoeeadvocates.org or calling 423-716-1844.