NORMAN — Most volunteers will commit a day or two of their time to support a cause. However, there are a handful in Cleveland County who commit a year or more of their time to help children in the county’s child welfare system.
Cleveland County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers are asked to commit at least a year to a child’s case. The volunteers are assigned a case to help children who are put in the child welfare system because of abuse or neglect.
“I wanted to do something to protect the children that couldn’t protect themselves or didn’t have someone at home to do that for them,” said Andi Wade, a CASA volunteer.
Wade has been a volunteer for Cleveland County’s CASA program for 11 years. She began volunteering in college and continues to help children through the court process. In her time as a volunteer, she has worked on about a dozen cases.
Wade said she has continued volunteering over the years, even when she became a stay-at-home mother, because the work is something that can change the course of a child’s life forever.
“For the first time you are in a situation where you know that if you weren’t there, things would be a lot worse for that child,” she said.
While sometimes it may be frustrating, inconvenient and time consuming, she said that it is something she continues to be passionate about because of the impact it makes.
As a volunteer, she is assigned a case randomly through her supervisor and the judge then appoints it to her. She then visits with the child, attorneys, biological parents or foster parents, teachers, social workers and anyone who is involved in that child’s life.
Through her visits, she learns about the child’s situation and writes a report to the court at least every three months about what direction she thinks is best for the child.
“It’s a good thing because we don’t have the same laws or requirements because we’re volunteers,” she said. “It’s strictly based on observations and we don’t have an ulterior motive, we’re not working for anybody.”
After writing the reports, the judge will then take them into consideration and decide on the case.
“I’ve never had a case where the judge didn’t agree with me or went against what I requested or suggested,” Wade said. “He obviously listens to what CASA has to say. He knows where our hearts are.”
Through Wade’s eyes, it is her job to make sure the child is safe. While visiting with them, she takes time to ask them if there is something they want the judge to know. She tells them she will be their voice for them in court.
“It gives them a safe place to feel like their feelings matter,” she said.
Wade said with all of the adult issues going on, it helps for the child to know that they have a person they know is there just for them. Oftentimes, they are put last on the list and are the last priority, she said.
“A lot of these kids have a situation where nobody has listened to them before and taken their feelings into consideration,” she said.
The reports help the judge decide whether to reunite the child with their family or not.
Cleveland County was the first county in the state to have a CASA program starting in 1985. The local CASA program also serves McClain and Garvin counties as well.
Last year, the county had around 100 volunteers and were able to serve 229 children.
The program typically serves younger children, but the program also serves those up to the age of 18, at which point they age out of the system. However, many children who are in the welfare system, who were abused or neglected, are fairly young.
Most volunteers are reserved for cases that involve getting children back into their parents’ homes.
For more information, call 360-5295 or visit the website, www.clevelandcountycasa.org.