Amid the coronavirus pandemic, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) of Yuma County continues to recruit community members who are willing to volunteer, advocate and help break cycles of child abuse and neglect.

Currently, 49 volunteers are advocating for the best interest of 103 Yuma County children in foster care, with over 100 still in need of this support.

“The need is most critical now, more than ever,” a CASA of Yuma County news release stated. “During periods of natural disasters, financial stress or global panics such as viral pandemics, studies show that abusers become more violent in an attempt to feel a sense of control.”

“We need to prepare for a significant increase in case numbers in the wake of this COVID-19 crisis,” said CASA of Yuma County coordinator Sandy Garrison. “We need dedicated adults to become CASA volunteers and be the voice for our children who have experienced abuse or neglect.”

To address this need and equip more volunteers to “answer the call of the current COVID-19 pandemic,” CASA of Yuma County is offering a six-week virtual training facilitated by the CASA of Arizona office in Phoenix.

Beginning July 22 and 23, the interactive training introduces volunteers to the key elements of CASA volunteer work, allowing them to obtain experience and effective tools for child advocacy through case studies on poverty, mental health issues, substance abuse, domestic violence and other dynamics they may encounter in their work.

The training is a preliminary step into the realm of CASA. After the six weeks of sessions and case studies, volunteers will complete a background check, a polygraph and fingerprinting before observing a court hearing and Foster Care Review Board hearing and taking on their first case.

“It’s a good two to three months’ process under normal circumstances,” said CASA of Yuma County coordinator Veronica Davis. “This is another level of volunteering because of the issues that we’re dealing with and the complexities, the severity of child abuse and all that’s involved with that, with children being removed from home and dealing with trauma. So we really want to make sure that the people we accept into the program are the right fit for the types of children and families that they’ll be dealing with once they come onto the program.”

Those interested in volunteering with CASA of Yuma County are urged to realistically consider how this position aligns with the direction they’re planning for their life and how it may fit with their current job, as volunteers often need to take time off in the middle of the day to attend court hearings, Foster Care Review Board hearings or IEP (individualized education plan) meetings at their child or children’s school.

“You really have to have the flexibility to show up to those things, because you’re the child’s voice at the table to each of these events,” said Davis. “If you’re assigned and you don’t show up, that child’s voice is not being heard, that child’s wants and needs are not being shared. It’s very, very important for the CASA to be able to commit long-term.”

That’s why, according to Davis, it’s vital that applicants are passionate about this type of volunteer work.

“The main thing is they have to have a passion to serve the children and be committed for the long-term,” said Davis. “The CASA volunteer may be the only constant adult in a child’s life during their time in the foster care system. They may change foster homes, they may change schools, their case workers may change, their therapists may change, judges and attorneys may change — everything in the system can be unreliable for them. But the CASA’s job is to be that constant, caring adult and to walk them through that process until they reach permanency. Ultimately, the goal would be that every child in foster care would have a CASA volunteer to be their voice and be with them through their journey through this dependency system.”

Volunteer applications are available online at CASAofYumaCounty.org.

For additional information or answers to questions, the office can be contacted by phone at (928) 314-1830 between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday.

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