Law firms, prosecutors help children be merry at annual CASA Christmas party

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF CASA OF KENT COUNTY

by Cynthia Price
Legal News
with notes from CASA

CASA of Kent County serves children in the most personal of ways during frightening and difficult times the children face.

And the Court Appointed Special Advocates, everyday citizens who become appointed members of the Kent County court system, sincerely and deeply care about the abused and neglected children they help to negotiate the justice system.

So it follows that the agency, which also works to increase public awareness of child abuse and neglect, would go all out at Christmas.

This  year Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge, Warner Norcross and Judd, and the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office lent a helping hand by supplying toys, gift cards, and more to make the party a big
success.

The center photo at right shows toy gifts as they were picked up from Smith Haughey the day before the party.

The photo above that is of volunteer Rick G. assisting some of the children in creating holiday crafts at the Dec. 15 event.

There was also pizza, gym time, and to cap it off, a visit from Santa himself, who gave each child a sack of gifts. The jolly man in red also spent time with each and every one, listening to their wants and desires.

One of the special guests, a six-year-old girl, commented, "There are lots of pretend Santas around, but I know the one at CASA is the REAL one!"

Both CASA advocates and foster families brought children to the shindig.

CASA of Kent County is one of a number of Court Appointed Special Advocate organizations around the country, which resulted from Congress enacting the “Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act” (Public Law 93-274) in 1974. That act mandated the appointment of a guardian ad litem for each child in judicial proceedings involving abuse or neglect to represent the child’s best interests.

A Seattle judge, David W. Soukup, who had been observing the attorneys appointed to be guardians ad litem, had begun by 1977 to realize that many were not trained to conduct extensive investigations, nor did they have the time. Judge Soukup, feeling that such critical decisions as he had to make required as much information as possible, used trained volunteers to advocate and speak for the children while they went through the court process.

The idea spread quickly. There are currently more than 950 local program offices nationally and 50,000  volunteer advocates who serve over 225,000 abused and neglected children.

The Victims of Child Abuse Act, which Congress passed in 1990, affirmed the official role CASA volunteers play in being the voice of the voiceless children going through the court system.

The Kent County program got off the ground when Chief Judge John P. Steketee of the Kent County Juvenile Court brought together a group of judges to develop the program and advise on its expansion and principles.

As of 2014, CASA?of Kent County had 84 volunteers who advocated on behalf of almost 300 children. However, there are more abused and neglected children with advocate needs that the organization is unable to help; the 2014 figure for eligible children was 750, so there were only enough volunteers to fill about 40% of the need.

A 2013 government report to Congress stated that in the year 2011 there were approximately 742,000 cases of confirmed child abuse (which it calls “maltreatment”) nationally, or 9.9 children in 1000. This represents a slight decline from 2008 figures, which were 10.3 per 1000.

CASA of Kent County, whose Executive Director is Cathy Weirick, is looking to increase its volunteer base. There is an application and screening process, but the agency welcomes people from all walks of life.
All volunteers must undergo rigorous training, and CASA will be offering a series starting in February. To explore this opportunity, visit www.casakentco.org/volunteer.

CASA of Kent County also welcomes donations. There is a fund-raising luncheon each year in May, and a “house party” to raise funds in the fall.
 

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