Most Viewed Stories
CASA presents child advocate awards
Susan Steenhard, a Court Appointed Special Advocate who works with troubled youths, has been given the 2012 CASA of the Year award — her third since she began volunteering with CASA for Children in 1999.
CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge with the Yuma County Juvenile Justice Center to advocate in court for the safe, permanent future of abused, neglected and abandoned children.
“We don't get paid, we are all volunteers, but our paycheck is making sure these kids have a good permanent, strong, loving home,” Steenhard said. “I help my kids because that is what I love to do.”
Steenhard, a native of northern New York, moved to Yuma about 30 years ago. She has two daughters and a 2-year-old granddaughter.
She is a member of the Foster Care Review Board, is active in the Elks Christmas toy drive each year and serves on the United Way of Yuma board.
“Susan Steenhard is very dedicated and devoted to the children she serves,” said Dennis O'Rourke, CASA coordinator.
“In her role as a CASA, she fights like a lion when it comes to ensuring the children she speaks for are placed in a safe, secure, loving and permanent home.”
She is also very well respected by her peers because she is “hard working, honest, compassionate and extremely devoted to the children she advocates for,” O'Rourke added.
Steenhard also mentors volunteers who have become advocates.
“I know that if Susan is mentoring any of my new advocates that they are learning from the best,” O'Rourke said.
While the judges, attorneys and social workers with Child Protective Services who meet with a troubled child may change, their CASA will most likely remain the same, Steenhard said.
“For us, we are that one person across the table from them each time. We are the constant in the child's life. We can go through this whole journey with them, and hopefully they will have a wonderful outcome in the end for them.”
As a CASA, Steenhard meets each child she is assigned to, interviews their families and reports her findings back to the judge. The judge will use the information she has gathered to either separate the child from the family and place them in foster care, or to return them home.
“We are kind of the eyes and the ears of the judge,” she said. “We gather all the information and give the court our recommendation based on the child. Our job is to do what is best for the child.”
In most cases, Steenhard recommends separation, which doesn't elicit pleasant relations with the families of the children.
“A lot of people don't like me, but that is OK. You have to be very strong and speak your mind and get to know the child and understand what is best for them. Sometimes the child gets angry at you, too, because they want to go home and that doesn't always get to happen.
“I've been doing this for a long time and I usually get tough cases and I've only had one child get to go home. All of my other children have been adopted or have a guardianship.”
Steenhard takes great pleasure when she sees the children she works with grow into productive and well-adjusted adults.
“To see those kids just blossom and have this normal, simple, wonderful life is more than you could ever ask for.”
Other honors went to Rookies of Year, Christopher Johnson and Gladys Schalm; The Judges Award, Christopher Johnson; contributions to CASA Program, Veronica Davis, Cindi Lafromboise and Laurene McGlothlen; Road Runner Award, Vicki and Adam Freund.