CUMMING -- Robert Coggins and his family likely wouldn’t still have a relationship with their foster daughter if it weren’t for CASA.
Coggins, now a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, himself, credits his foster child’s CASA worker, who he said helped build the relationship she and her biological family have with him and his family today.
He, along with 13 others, will soon advocate for the neglected or abused children of Forsyth County, after recently being sworn in as CASA volunteers.
The new class was honored at the Forsyth County juvenile courthouse Monday evening where they were officially made a part of the county’s juvenile justice system.
With each CASA usually taking on two cases, about 30 children will be represented, some of whom have needed a volunteer for a while, said Lori Pupp, executive director. Especially boys.
About 50 percent of children in the system are male, and this most recent class has now doubled the amount of male volunteers the organization has, Pupp said.
“There are a lot of boys in this program and they do need some form of mentoring,” Coggins said. “We’re limited in what we can and can’t do with them but I think any small aspect you can have in their lives, you can impact them.”
The court relies on the judge-appointed volunteers, who are trained to represent children involved in juvenile court proceedings.
“In the positions that we’re in, we have to make very difficult decisions regarding the lives of children and families,” Forsyth County Juvenile Court Judge J. Russell Jackson said. “The thing that we need most is we need good information in order to make those decisions. All judges love CASAs because that’s another place where we can get good information from someone who really has no other agenda in the case but to recommend and state facts about what you believe is best for a child. That is like gold to a judge like myself or [Associate Juvenile Court] Judge [Randall] Meincke.”
Children’s case managers at DFCS and other professionals can change often, said Donna Kukarola, chair of CASA’s board — the record she said she knows of for case managers changing was 27 in one case.
CASA workers are inducted twice a year after completing 40 hours of classroom and online training and 10 hours of courtroom observation, where they learn about the child welfare system, the child development process and the courtroom process, among other training values.
“We rely on you to give us an unbiased opinion,” he said, addressing the newly sworn-in volunteers. “You are not beholden to DFCS; you’re not beholden to defense council or the mother, father or anyone else. You’re really not even beholden to the court; if you disagree with what the court’s decision is, I would encourage you to make your thoughts known and certainly we will respect those thoughts and give them the credibility they deserve.”
Sarah Chattin, a new advocate, said she is looking forward to helping mend those broken pieces in foster children’s lives.
“Everyone that you encounter within a family … they’ve gone through something,” she said. “To come in as an outsider and ask them personal questions is such a sensitive thing, and you have to be so respectful and careful, but I’m really looking forward to the relationships.”
For more information about the organization, visit forsythcountycasa.org.