With trained court appointed volunteers, the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Oklahoma County organizations' sole interest is in helping abused or neglected children. The volunteers work in the best interest of children in the Oklahoma County juvenile court system.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Oklahoma County, or CASA, assign volunteers to go over a child's case to make sure the child's voice is heard. In many cases, the child has been abused and has been in many foster homes. CASA volunteers make sure that the child's needs are filled, such as clothes, counseling or tutoring.
“What you find is that typically there is not anyone that is there for their best interest,” development manager, Katherine Craig said.
Part of a national CASA program started in 1977, CASA of Oklahoma County began in 1987 when Presiding Juvenile Judge Sid Brown recognized the importance of the program. To expand its reach in the community, CASA of Oklahoma County became a stand-alone nonprofit organization in July 2008.
“One of the unique challenges that Oklahoma County faces is the number of children that are in custody in this county,” Craig said.
Out of about 10,000 children in the foster care system in Oklahoma, almost one-third of the children are in Oklahoma County. This creates an increased demand for volunteers in the community because of the numerous cases CASA receives.
To become a volunteer you have to be at least 21, go through an extensive interview process and complete 40 hours of training. Volunteers should also have a flexible job since they have to attend every court proceeding for the child they represent. CASA wants to ensure that volunteers are familiar with the Child Welfare system, the Juvenile Court system, the dynamics of abuse and neglect and their responsibilities.
CASA has an agreement with Oklahoma universities and masters students from the social studies departments that would like to do a practicum. Their practicum program lets the students get hands on training and allow advocate supervisors take on additional volunteers.
“It's a complicated and scary system and it's really nice to know that it's people from the community that do this,” Craig said. “They see their needs and it's remarkable.”
What makes CASA unique to other nonprofit organizations is the national CASA standards they have to adhere to. For every 30 volunteers they have, they need to have one advocate supervisor on staff, which makes fundraising a huge need of theirs.
Every year, Halliburton hosts the fundraiser, Energy for Children. It is a skeet shoot event that raises thousands of dollars for CASA. Also, toward the end of summer, CASA pairs with the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture to put on the Playhouse Parade. Architecture students design and build a playhouse that is auctioned off by CASA.
Located in Oklahoma City, CASA is currently helping about 700 children and represents 24 to 30 percent of the abused and neglected children in Oklahoma County. There are over 1,400 Oklahoma County children without an advocate and their goal is to raise enough funds to represent at least 50 percent.
“It's pretty incredible and profound once you start hearing some stories of people that have been doing this,” Craig said. “It's a big difference.”
It's a complicated and scary system and it's really nice to know that it's people from the community that do this. They see their needs and it's remarkable.”
Katherine Craig, development manager,