Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Voice of CASA

By Heidi Hiatt, CASA Volunteer Manager

The Clark County CASA Program of YWCA invites residents to delight in the season by celebrating the joys of giving back. Extend the warm feelings of the holiday season by embracing a long-term volunteer commitment with the Clark County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program.

The CASA Program is proud of the 161 community volunteers that are currently committed to representing the voices of 357 children in our county child welfare system. There are an additional 260 children who are currently waiting for a volunteer to be assigned to their case. Until a volunteer is assigned, CASA staff work hard to represent their best interests in court. The primary goal is to have all 617 children assigned a CASA volunteer who can help ensure that each child finds the safe, permanent home they deserve.

Why should you choose to volunteer with CASA? Just ask our program’s longest-serving CASA volunteer, Judy Fortlage. Judy was sworn in as a CASA at the Clark County Juvenile Court on March 1, 1990. During her almost 25 years of volunteer service she has represented 100 children in the Clark County Dependency Court system. She has mentored dozens of new CASAs, been on the Board of the Washington State CASA Association, and helped establish the legislative advocacy efforts of our program. In 2010, Judy was awarded the G.F. Bettineski Child Advocate of the Year by the National CASA Association. Judy is diligent, persistence and has shown exemplary commitment to children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

Judy Fortlage, CASA Volunteer for 25 years.
We recently asked Judy to share why she has chosen to volunteer with CASA for almost 25 years. Here is her response:

Why CASA? There are children in our community who have no voice. They are in unfortunate, often dangerous circumstances. They are all our children. The CASA volunteer advocates for the best interests of the child. I once heard a judge say that the CASA is “the voice of common sense.” We ask for not what is expedient, but what is necessary. Our paramount focus is the child. We are not bound by the constraints of organizational policy, but by what is going to be safe and nurturing for that child.

We meet some children who are wary of us at first. They have not learned to trust adults and the dependency process has brought into their lives many adult strangers. Our task is to gain their trust and speak for them in court. Is this easy? It is not. Is it important? Yes, it is important. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing a family whole again, when that is possible, or seeing a resolution that will allow the child to thrive. We talk to the parents, other relatives, social workers, teachers, counselors, physicians and therapists, friends of the family and others. The most significant person we talk to, however, is the child.

Clark County CASA, which trains volunteers to serve as advocates for abused and neglected children as they navigate the child welfare system, is asking you to give back during the holidays. Like other nonprofits that rely on volunteers to deliver on our mission, we appreciate community members’ year-round dedication to our cause. CASA volunteers change lives. What could be more fulfilling than that?

We are privileged to have Judy and 160 other community members volunteer their time with our program. Please join us to ensure that the 260 children who do not have a CASA volunteer assigned to their case today, can have a volunteer appointed to them in 2015.

CASA’s winter training will begin on January 8, 2015. To learn how you can become a CASA volunteer, contact Nichole Peppers at