Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers are sometimes the only constant person in a child’s life through their abuse/neglect court case, Southeast Nebraska CASA Executive Director Shelby Pederesen said.
Twenty-three kids in Seward County are waiting for a volunteer to step up to help them.
Pedersen said there are currently seven active CASA volunteers in Seward County. Although some of the 23 open cases will soon come to a close, new kids are entering the system all the time.
“Unfortunately, we know that child abuse and neglect doesn’t just stop, so there will always be that need,” she said.
Southeast Nebraska CASA is an organization that, after putting volunteers through training, pairs them with a child who is a ward of the state or in the foster care system. The volunteer becomes familiar with the child’s situation and advocates for them in their case.
Statistically, kids with a CASA volunteer are less likely to re-enter the system and more likely to graduate from high school, Pedersen said.
“Really, these small amounts of time can make a tremendous impact on our younger kiddos and our young adults going through these really difficult times,” Deputy Seward County Attorney Ashley Dowart said.
Dowart said she has seen only positive outcomes from the program and loves hearing its success stories. About two months ago, she was in a meeting and heard about a CASA volunteer who helped a teenager several years ago and still stays in contact with her.
CASA volunteers fill a special role because they are the only person in a juvenile abuse/neglect case that does not do this type of work for a living, Dowart said.
“That CASA role that they play is just purely out of wanting to be a safe, positive resource, support and advocate for a child in need,” she said.
Volunteers spend an average of four to nine hours per month on the program, and new volunteers must complete 30 hours of training over the course of five weeks before being sworn in.
“We try to be really flexible with our volunteers. So, let’s say they’re working with a kid and their family but they can’t attend a court hearing in March. Well, one of our staff members can attend that hearing for them,” Pedersen said. “We don’t want that to be a barrier to these kids getting served.”
“I urge parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to imagine those kids that you love waking up and not having that constant in their lives,” Pedersen said. “That’s what these kids go through the second that they’re removed from their homes.”
Pedersen said people who do not feel that volunteering with CASA is for them but want to help are welcome to make monetary donations or become a board member. She encourages anyone who knows someone who might be a good fit for the role to tell them about the program.
Anyone who wants to volunteer can visit southeastnebraskacasa.org and fill out an application form or email Pedersen at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.