Dana Lutz is an advocate supervisor for the Oklahoma Court Appointed Special Advocate Association. Lutz works at CASA’s El Reno office in Canadian County. She said the small organization works to help the roughly 400 kids in Canadian County who need their services.
“We, the advocate staff, assist volunteers throughout each case and give ongoing support until each case is closed and the child is in a safe home,” Lutz said.
The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association helps a safe, permanent home and the opportunity to thrive to abused and neglected children throughout the country. The association and its network of nearly 1,000 local community programs support volunteers serving children. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to represent the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
According to the National CASA website, the movement began in 1977. A Seattle juvenile court judge was concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information, and conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for abused and neglected children in the courtroom. Since then, the movement has grown 949 programs in 49 states and for the past 38 years courts have supported the CASA movement.
CASA volunteers are everyday citizens. The organization’s website states that they are simply looking for people who care about children and have common sense. However, every volunteer must be the age of 21 or older, pass a background check, and participate in a 30-hour pre-service training course. Twenty of these training hours are done individually and the remaining 10 hours are completed with the advocate staff.
In the training sessions volunteers will learn proper interviewing skills, how to write court reports, understand the court process, and more. However, as a condition volunteers must agree to stay with a case until it is closed, some of which can last up to a year and a half.
After being trained and screened, CASA volunteers are appointed to a child or sibling group. The advocate staff tries their best to make a fitting pair between each volunteer and child. They look at the child’s needs, the volunteer’s needs, the involvement in each case, the type of cases the volunteer wants, and the child’s age group that is desired.
The CASA volunteers are expected to complete certain duties. Some of these duties include investigating the child’s circumstances, researching the case, talking to the child and involved parties and professionals, providing fact-based information, and submitting written recommendations to the court while becoming a source of support for the child.
Besides being a CASA volunteer, there are other ways to help. Individuals can help by donating money. Donating to National CASA assists in training and supporting volunteer advocates, further grows the ability and impact of the programs to reach more children, and helps raise awareness.
Oklahoma has 23 active CASA programs and serves children in 64 of the state’s 77 counties as well as four tribal courts.
The mission of the Oklahoma CASA is to present a statewide voice for abused and neglected children by enhancing the growth and sustainability of CASA programs throughout Oklahoma.
Canadian county is one out of the 64 counties in Oklahoma that serve children. The executive director for El Reno, Krystle Lane, said the number of children they have been able to help is definitely the most important. “This past year we helped 75 children find a safe, permanent home,” Lane said. Lane said if more people were willing to volunteer they could have served 300 more children last year.
Lutz and Lane believe more people should get involved in CASA programs because it can provide children with a better future and have positive effects on the child’s life and the volunteer’s life as well.
“We work to produce better outcomes and to change kids lives,” Lane said.