Friday, April 14, 2017

CASA: Giving a Voice to Children in Need

By Emily Ostrowski

YWCA Clark County is driven by the desire to help those most vulnerable in our community. Our Clark County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program is one of the many ways we do that.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and CASA is designed to advocate for the best interest of Clark County children in the dependency system, and be their voice in the court system.

Blue and silver pinwheels are displayed in communities
nationwide to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month
Fueled by the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, CASA typically advocates for over 600 children each year. Sheryl Thierry, YWCA Clark County’s Director of CASA, has noted an increase in the number of dependencies filed in the county.

In fact, the numbers of cases of child abuse or neglect reported in Clark County, as well as Washington State on whole have been increasing over the last few years. Thierry discussed two factors contributing to the rise: substance use and mental health issues.

The United States is the middle of an opioid epidemic, with over 33,000 people dying of opioid overdose in 2015 alone. Neither Washington State or Clark County have been immune to the crisis.  “It has impacted the county, and led to an increase in neglect cases that are filed,” said Thierry.  “Untreated substance abuse has led to homelessness for families, and unsafe living conditions for children” in our community.

Mental health issues in parents and caregivers can also be a factor in child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, Washington State is currently ranked 48th in the country in providing access to mental health services. “Mental health is a major factor in many of our cases, and the lack of resources in Clark County creates delays, and often acts as a permanent barrier for parents who cannot get the specific type of help they need,” said Thierry. “There are also lack of mental health resources for children with significant, and often violent behavioral issues.”

Despite these hurdles CASA volunteers tirelessly pursue the best interests of the children and families they work with. “We collaborate with social workers, teachers, therapists, and other team members to assess each child’s needs, and what changes parents need to make to provide a safe and stable home for their children.” said Thierry.

If a reunion with their parents isn’t an option, CASA works to monitor placements, makes recommendations to the courts, and ensures the child’s specific needs are met in their placement home. Advocates also visit children at least once a month in various settings to get to know the child personally.

Above all, CASA volunteers stay vigilant in their support for the children they advocate for, and remain a constant and stable adult presence in their lives.

There are numerous ways you can support CASA and the growing numbers of children needing advocacy. Join YWCA Clark County for a CASA Open House on Wednesday, April 19th from 4-6pm to learn more about our program, and to discover how you can help.