Friday, December 19–Local Child Advocacy Group Needs Community Help

BERLIN – With a growing, diverse population in Worcester County and an in-kind increase in the number of children needing a support system, a local child advocacy group is calling out for more volunteers to meet the need.

Neglected, abused and otherwise troubled children in Worcester who find themselves snared in the web of the complex legal system for a wide variety of reasons have a neutral friend in the Lower Shore Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, but the local support system needs more volunteers to keep up with the growing demand for its services. CASA, the volunteer-driven, non-profit program that falls under the larger umbrella of the Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services program, provides a network of private citizen volunteers to look out for the interests of troubled children caught in the web of the judicial, educational and social services systems.

The CASA program is in constant need of volunteers to meet the growing demand for its services and is hoping to draw from the local community to fill out its ranks. The program trains volunteers for service and no special qualifications are required other than a compassionate, kind soul with an interest in helping troubled kids in need. CASA is currently in the midst of its latest recruitment drive with an eye on a new training session after the first of the year.

“The need for volunteers is constant and ongoing,” said program director Brigitte Saulsbury. “There isn’t a particular time of the year when we need volunteers more than others. We can always use the help, but we try to coordinate our recruiting drives around our training sessions.”

The current recruiting drive is called “Be a star, unwrap a star,” urging those in the community interested in volunteering to be a star by advocating on behalf of a troubled child and helping those children become rising stars themselves.

“How do we do this? By committing one volunteer to one case at a time, ensuring that no child becomes a falling star in an overburdened social welfare system,” said Saulsbury. “We build on each and every individual’s strengths, volunteers and kids alike, enabling each person to recognize their assets and use them to the best of their abilities, all within a safe environment.”

The local CASA program currently advocates on behalf of around 35 children in the community with a handful more on a waiting list, but the program is only scratching the surface. According to Saulsbury, there are about 50 children in Worcester County currently in foster homes and another 110 or so classified as Children in Need of Assistance (CINA) by the court system and social services.

Children helped by CASA volunteers often include those whose placement is being determined by juvenile court and most are victims of abuse and neglect. CASA volunteers carefully research the background of the child whose case they have been assigned to, interviewing parents, teachers, social workers, attorneys, doctors and anyone else who touches the child’s life, to help the court make a more informed decision about the child’s future.

During the course of one’s advocacy on behalf of a child, a CASA volunteer gathers the facts and makes recommendations in a written report to a judge and often gives oral testimony in court if requested. The volunteers also offer the children trust during complex legal proceedings and explain to the child the events that are happening, the reasons they are in court in the first place and the roles the judge, lawyers and social workers play.

The local CASA program clearly needs more volunteers to meet the demand for its services, but with funding and grants tied to the number of volunteers the program has in place, the current recruiting drive is serving two purposes aimed at the same goal. While CASA does receive some grants, much of its work is fueled by its own fundraising efforts.

To that end, the program is currently conducting a fundraising effort on a parallel course to its recruitment drive, the idea being if one does not have the time or the commitment to become a volunteer, then maybe they can help by donating money or purchasing some of the attractive goods the program is offering this holiday season.

CASA has commissioned two designers, Dee Gilbert and Sharon Rayne of Bobbyowl.com to design handmade purses and totes for the program to sell this holiday season, and each is specially made and unique as the children the program serves. In addition, CASA is also offering handmade beaded bracelets and lanyards, each of which is unique. The items are currently for sale at WYFCS in Berlin.

To find out more about becoming a volunteer, or to purchase the attractive purses, bracelets or lanyards, contact CASA at 410-641-4598, or email at lscasa@comcast.net.

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