CASA Blog

UPCOMING EVENT: CASA Information Session on Tuesday, February 5th at 6:00pm

June 12, 2018

CASA volunteers advocate for the best interest of children who have come into the state’s care as a result of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.  Join us for a 1-hour informational session for interested volunteers or community members who want to learn more about the CASA program.   We are looking forward to meeting you in the Community Room at YWCA, 3609 Main Street, Vancouver.  You may also email our Volunteer Specialist at kbenzel@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

“CASA Crew” Gives Back During NAMI Walk

June 11, 2018

by Emily Ostrowski

At YWCA Clark County we are proud to have staff and volunteers who seek to get involved in our community, both at work and in their spare time. On May 20th several CASA staff members gave back by participating in the NAMIWalks Northwest 5k Event in Portland.

For those who aren’t familiar, NAMI stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Established in 1979, NAMI, according to their website, “is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.” Each year they hosts walks to raise awareness and funds for NAMI branches across the country.

Kelli Burgad, Program Specialist for Clark County CASA organized the walk, initially as a team-building activity for CASA staff. The “CASA Crew”, as they called themselves, consisted of 18 participants, six of which were CASA staff. Several others donated to the team, and in total they raised $2,150!

Burgad recognizes the wide array of people affected by mental illness, and was motivated to participate in the walk and support NAMI specifically because they offer free services that can be of help to low income families who are suffering. She also sees the ways in which mental health, as well as lack of access to mental health services, affects the children and families she sees at Clark County CASA.

“Mental illness is a significant part of the work we do with CASA,” said Burgad. “Kids we work with often experience mental illness brought on by trauma, genetics, and life experiences. We also see parents who suffer with mental illness that has brought them to a place of legal trouble due to neglecting, abusing, or abandoning their children.”

In addition to financial burdens, Burgad also sees the continuing stigma around mental illness as a big hurdle towards people seeking help. From CASA Crew’s official NAMIWalks Team Page she writes:

Mental Health issues have been a taboo in past history, but times are slowly changing as we become more educated through science and medicine that mental health is a sickness and treatable just like being diabetic. Individuals don’t have to suffer alone, but there continues to be a great need for understanding and acceptance of mental illness in our communities.

She also appreciates the connection between the missions of NAMI and YWCA Clark County. “Both are very similar in their commitment to a better community and helping others in need that suffer from stigma and discrimination,” said Burgad. “They each provide education to the community to eliminate discrimination and advocate for change.”

Though this was her first year participating, Burgad fully plans to organize another walk next year for anyone in the community who wants to join. She’s already got a name picked out:
“Team HOPE”

Click here to see more pictures from the walk.

CASA Profile Part Three: Gail Shelton

November 16, 2017

In honor of YWCA Clark County celebrating 35 years of our CASA Program we’ve interviewed three of our wonderful and dedicated volunteers on what it’s like being a CASA. Our final interview with Gail Shelton is below. (Follow the links to read our interviews with Avonna Chung and Larry Didier as well!)

Name:
Gail Shelton

How long have you been a CASA?
10 years.

What first inspired you or got you interested in the CASA program?
During my last few years of teaching reading in the Evergreen School District I was thinking about volunteering in some capacity in the schools, possibly as a “Big Sister” or “Lunch Buddy”. I was drawn to an ad in the paper that kept reappearing every so often, describing the CASA Program. I thought, “I could do that!” I had had several students who were in temporary foster homes over the years, and my own two sons were adopted, so I was somewhat familiar with children who didn’t have permanent, stable homes. More

Volunteer Judy Walter Awarded WA State CASA of the Year

October 26, 2017

by Emily Ostrowski

Volunteers are the lifeblood of YWCA Clark County. We could never provide the resources for our community that we do without their selfless work and dedication, and we love to take any opportunity to celebrate their achievements. That is why it fills us with great pride to announce that this year’s recipient of the Washington State CASA of the Year is our very own Judy Walter!

Judy has served as a CASA since February of 2014. She had always prioritized volunteer work, and decided to sign up after she was encouraged to join the program by a friend who was also a CASA, and knew of Judy’s love of children.

Judy, who spent 30 years working in the insurance industry before retiring 13 years ago, has made a it a priority to stay involved in her community, both as a CASA, as well as volunteering at her granddaughter’s elementary school every week.

Judy’s love of children is at the heart of her commitment to being an exceptional CASA, and something she says is essential for anyone thinking of becoming a volunteer. She also emphasizes the need to stay objective and clear-headed. “It’s a commitment, so you have to make sure you are willing to put in the time to do the best job you can for the children you are serving. Be prepared to become emotionally involved with the children you are advocating for, but be prepared to let go when the time comes.” More

CASA Profile: Avonna Chung

August 29, 2017

by Emily Ostrowski

YWCA Clark County would be nothing without our volunteers. We feel an enormous sense of pride and gratitude for all of our program volunteers that give their time, energy and compassion so selflessly to help aid many of the most vulnerable members of our community.

This year our Clark County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program is celebrating its 35 year anniversary, and as a way to commemorate the program’s longevity we’d like to take some time to shine the spotlight on several volunteers who advocate for children in our community, and celebrate the work that they have done.

CASA Volunteer Avonna Chung

More

Celebrating 35 Years of Putting Children First with CASA

August 17, 2017

by Emily Ostrowski

This year our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program is celebrating its 35 year anniversary. We are incredibly proud of all the work our volunteers have done for children in the community through this program. In honor of this, we’d like to take some time to look back at the very beginnings of the CASA Program, and why it remains a vital resource to advocate for children.

The National CASA Program was started by King County Superior Court Judge David Soukup in 1977. During his time on the bench in juvenile court, Judge Soukup became frustrated that during cases there was no one in the courtroom whose sole job was to provide a voice for children, and from his concerns the idea for CASA grew. “It struck me that it might be possible to recruit and train volunteers to investigate a child’s case so they could provide a voice for the child in those proceedings, proceedings which could affect their whole lives,” said Soukup.

More

The Voice of CASA

December 14, 2014

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 npeppers@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

Advocacy in Olympia Pays Off

June 28, 2014

Good news from our state legislature. For those of you who believe little good comes from Olympia, here are two examples to the contrary. YWCA’s Public Policy Committee tracks various bills as they wend their way through the legislature. Below is the fate of two bills that affect community members obtaining services through YWCA’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and Sexual Assault programs.

Passage of House Bill (HB) 1298 / Senate Bill (SB) 5169 would have allowed distribution of CASA or GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) caseworkers background checks to all parties involved in a CASA or GAL appointment. Potential confidential or personal information about caseworkers would have been in the hands of individuals that were adversely affected by court decisions. In turn this could have prolonged cases needlessly or potentially been hazardous to caseworkers.

Traci, De and Laurie visited Olympia to advocate for survivors .

YWCA Clark County staff were among those testifying against this bill in Olympia. As a result of both this testimony and concerned lawmakers the bill died in committee, never reaching the floor.

Another Senate Bill, sponsored by local Senator Ann Rivers, works to assist survivors of sexual assault to live their lives without fear of contact from their convicted sexual offenders. SB 6069 authorizes the Department of Corrections to prohibit convicted sexual offenders from direct or indirect contact with the victim of the crime or specified classes of individuals. Additionally, other agencies are required to impose similar conditions of these offenders.

The Indeterminate Sentence Review Board shall impose a condition requiring the offender to refrain from contact with the victim or the victims’ immediate family members. When providing notice of a sexual offender’s residence, the Department of Corrections is required to include notice that the victim or immediate family member may request a non contact order as a stipulation of release, if this is not already provided for by court order. This bill passed the legislature and was signed into law by the Governor on March 17, 2014.

Our legislature really does work to help state residents. Become familiar with the issues and cast your vote in a manner that is right for you. Remember, every vote counts.

Say Yes to 900 Children in Clark County

It’s hard to say “No” to a child. Even when the request is small – an extra cookie, a drugstore toy, five more minutes before bedtime – we want to see those bright smiles and happy eyes when we say “Yes”.

But when a child has suffered from abuse or neglect, when their lives have been turned upside down in an unfamiliar foster home, when they feel they have no one they can count on, saying no isn’t just hard. It’s agonizing.

At Clark County CASA of YWCA we never want to say no to a child who needs us. Support from people like you means we won’t have to.

Today, CASA is advocating for 643 Clark County children in the foster care and court system. They range from drug-affected twins in a neo-natal unit to 17-year-old boys and girls who will be totally on their own when they “age out” of the foster care system on their 18th birthday. Thanks to CASA, they have highly trained, compassionate volunteers and staff who are investigating and advocating for their interests.

However, 269 children in Clark County are still in need of an advocate. But we cannot help abused and neglected children – today or for generations to come – without your support. We need volunteers and donations to support the more than 900 children that pass through the Clark County court system each year. In the words of CASA volunteer Judy:

“Each time I see the gratitude and trust in my CASA child’s eyes, I’m reminded of how grateful I am that people in our community care enough about her and other foster kids to support Clark County CASA. We are doing life-saving work here. And it’s donations from our community that make it possible.”

During this special campaign of awareness for abused and neglected children, will you please consider making an investment in them and in their future? Your tax-deductible gift to Clark County CASA will go a long way to helping children today and to breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect forever. Thank you for your confidence and support.