That’s where CASA for Kids steps in. With a mix of staff and volunteers, the organization advocates for children in negative situations, helping them achieve safe, stable and loving homes.
As the holiday season approaches, more and more children are in need of CASA’s services. Because of that, the organization is seeking more volunteers to meet the demand.
“After Christmas and the new year is a busy time because people get together with their families for Christmas, and … people drink, or they get high on drugs, and the children are the recipients of a lot of the violence that goes on,” said Mary Kilpatrick, executive director. “So after the first of the year, we get a lot of cases.”
What is CASA for Kids?
CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a nonprofit organization that assists the juvenile court system in determining the best interests of children involved in child welfare cases. Locally, CASA has offices in Kingsport, Bristol and Rogersville.
Though the organization employs some staff, CASA depends largely on volunteers to work the cases. Volunteers are responsible for observing children at home, in school and other locations to get an accurate picture of their day-to-day lives. After gathering this information, the volunteers create a report and make a recommendation to the court, which the judge might or might not choose to follow.
“Our volunteers and staff are appointed by the court to advocate for these children,” Kilpatrick said. “What they do is they investigate every aspect of their life. I always reference a tree: You start out with just the trunk, and by the time you get through, you’ve filled in all the leaves and the roots and the whole tree.”
Meeting the need
Last year, CASA served 338 children, including 137 from Kingsport and 126 from Hawkins County. Nearly 200 cases were closed, with most children either being reunified with their parents or placed in long-term relative care.
CASA serves children in a variety of situations, including domestic violence, poverty and abuse. In 2017, substance abuse and mental health issues of a parent or caregiver were the most common situations children experienced.
Kilpatrick said CASA is always in need of volunteers, particularly males. All volunteers must be at least 21 years old and pass an extensive background check. From there, they must complete a training process and shadow an experienced volunteer until they feel comfortable working a case on their own.
Volunteers can work up to two active cases at one time, Kilpatrick said. Last year, CASA volunteers contributed 5,500 hours of volunteer labor in Sullivan and Hawkins counties.
Other ways to help
Kilpatrick acknowledged that being a CASA volunteer isn’t for everyone. For those who can’t volunteer but would still like to help, CASA accepts monetary donations throughout the year.
Those looking for a place to have dinner Thursday, Nov. 15, are invited to a fundraiser at Five Guys, located at 1708 E. Stone Drive, from 5-8 p.m. Simply mention CASA for Kids at the time of purchase, and 20 percent of proceeds from your purchase will be donated to the organization.
For more information or to become a volunteer, call (423) 247-1161.