Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers provide the constant guidance a child needs to thrive, sometimes a CASA is the only constant in a child's life.
When most of us think back to our childhood it is like opening a treasure chest of precious memories. We might remember that special excited feeling a Christmas morning or birthday would bring or the wonderful smells pouring from the kitchen when a holiday meal was being prepared. Some memories may be of simpler things such as the safe, snug feeling of being tucked in bed at night wearing clean, soft pajamas following a nice warm bath.
Sadly, not all children are fortunate enough have such wonderful memories of their childhood. There are some children who are abused and/or neglected, they don’t have proper clothing, shelter or enough food to eat and often fall asleep cold, scared, and hungry. If reported these children are removed from their parent(s), placed into foster homes, and end up in the Juvenile Court System. While each of these children are assigned a case worker through Health and Human Services, they often require additional support that can be provided by a CASA volunteer.
The SENCA CASA Program provides advocacy for Otoe and Nemaha County youth who are introduced into the child welfare system through no fault of their own. Trained CASA volunteers, appointed by the Judge, are assigned to the child’s case and provide a voice for the child in the courtroom, helping determine what is best for them and their situation with the ultimate goal of securing a safe and healthy home for the child. CASA’s are asked to connect with the child at least once a month in some type of activity as a way to interact and get to know them better. However it is not unusual for the CASA and the child/children to form a special bond as the CASA is often the one true constant in the child’s life.
“Grandpa Norm”, a retired Otoe County farmer, has been a CASA volunteer for the past nine years. In 2016 the local Judge appointed him to a case involving three young children, ages 5, 2, and a newborn. The children were removed from their biological parents due to the parent’s substance abuse problems and domestic violence. The mother tested positive for substance abuse when the baby was born and unfortunately the baby also tested positive for having an illegal substance in its system.
Assigned as CASA to the case within 19 days after the children were removed from the parents, Norm played a fundamental role in visiting the children at least once a month. Norm provided continuous contact with the foster parents, attending family team meetings, and scheduled court dates. When the case transferred to a county that did not offer a CASA Program, the foster parents asked that Norm be allowed to continue as the children’s CASA. The Juvenile Judge agreed and Norm remained as a constant in the children’s lives as well as affording them with an influential voice in the courtroom.
The children’s parents ultimately made the difficult decision of relinquishing their parental rights in May 2018. Knowing it was in the best interest of the children to be in a permanent, safe, and supportive home, Norm advocated for the children to be adopted by their grandparents. Throughout the days, weeks, and months that Norm advocated for the three children he donated more than 123 hours of his time and traveled in excess of 1,700 miles to and from home visits, team meetings, and court hearings.
Within three months, on August 30, the adoption was official and the children were secure in their safe, loving, forever home with their grandparents. “Grandpa Norm” as he was fondly nicknamed by the oldest child, was joyfully invited to help celebrate the “happiest day ever party.” CASA’s really do make a difference in the life of a child.