Court Appointed Special Advocates of Forsyth County is seeking more volunteers to help with an expanding caseload.
The agency has served 225 children through September, already surpassing last year’s total of 223.
There’s no single explanation behind the increase in cases, but the growth is expected to continue next year with the onset of new requirements under the state’s juvenile justice reform act, said Janet Walden, executive director of CASA of Forsyth County.
To help with the growing number of children needing such a volunteer, CASA hopes to have several community members sign up for the next training session this month.
Classes begin Oct. 24 and run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each Thursday except Thanksgiving through Dec. 5.
Volunteers must complete an interview and application with federal and state criminal background checks prior to entering the training, so interested people need to apply as soon as possible, Walden said.
Trained volunteers currently advocate for abused and neglected children once appointed by a judge.
Starting next year, CASAs will also be assigned to assist a new group within the juvenile court system known as children in need of services, or CHINS, which include runaways, truants and the ungovernable.
Currently, the court has two categories, either delinquency cases for juvenile offenders or dependency cases in situations of abuse or neglect.
“Now, there’s this third level that’s called CHINS and they’re pulling those cases away from delinquency. It’s a really great idea because these are children who are only doing things against the law because of their age,” Walden said, giving the example of a child running away from home versus an adult.
Now, CASAs will provide services to the child and the people in their home to “hopefully correct that path” through the state juvenile justice reform law, which takes effect Jan. 1.
Walden said some attributes that make a good CASA include people who can handle unfamiliar environments and situations, voice an opinion in a public setting even if it differs from others’, withhold judgment on someone who may have abused or mistreated a child and maintain a schedule independently.
CASAs must be at least 21, complete 30 hours of in-class and online training, attend 10 hours of courtroom observation and maintain 10 hours of continuing education credits after beginning their case work.
Volunteers also need to make an 18-month commitment to a child’s case once appointed.
Walden said most volunteers say they enjoy the work because they “feel like they’re making a difference for a child that needs them.”
“Children who have CASA volunteers are less likely to languish in foster care, more likely to get more services and less likely to re-enter the system,” she said.