NORMAN — Cleveland County Court Appointed Special Advocates haven’t been able to serve as many children in the child welfare system this year because of a lack of volunteers.
Kathleen Romero, executive director of Cleveland County CASA, said the program serves 30 percent to 40 percent of the children in the county’s child welfare system although hundreds of children in Norman have a need for it.
“As a community, these are the most vulnerable members, and if we take care of them as a community, the community benefits by that,” Romero said.
The next CASA training session will begin Jan. 28. Orientation will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 at the Norman Regional Education Center, 901 Porter Ave. The training sessions are a couple nights a week and there are about eight sessions.
Debrah Morris, a CASA volunteer, compared spending her time watching a movie versus spending her time supervising a visit for the child.
“Which is more rewarding?” she asked.
For Morris, spending time with a child is more rewarding.
Most of the children in the child welfare system are there because of abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers are specifically assigned as objective, independent people in the system who see that children’s needs are being addressed while they are in custody.
Morris also had a comparison for the children and their families and CASA’s involvement with them. She likened a family to a car. Sometimes, the car may run out of gas or veer off of the road. CASA is like the tow truck that helps get that car back on the road, she said.
On the other hand, sometimes that car may be totaled and a new car (or family) is needed to get a child back on the road, she said.
The statewide average for children being in the child welfare system is about 2.2 years. CASA reduces that average by nine months. There are kids that fall through the system, Romero said she likes to think of CASA as something that helps fill those cracks.
While there are lots of programs out there that people could volunteer for, Morris said this is one program that helps you stay involved with others.
“There’s a lot of people that would benefit from this just as much as it benefits a child,” she said.
Another CASA volunteer, Bob Green, agreed that the work is very rewarding. Morris and Green both work full-time but they still find time to fit CASA into their schedule, Romero said.
It isn’t your typical volunteer work either. Volunteers are typically assigned to one case at a time which can last a year or longer.
“It’s a long-term commitment,” Morris said.
“You’re working toward permanency for them (the child),” Green said.
Morris said CASA volunteer work is like the gift that keeps on giving. She said if you’re looking for the perfect gift to give this year, the best gift you might be able to give is your time to a child who needs it.
For more information about Cleveland County CASA or to register for training, call 360-5295 or visit the website, www.clevelandcountycasa.org.
The CASA office will be closed through Jan. 1, 2013.