The courtroom can be a scary, confusing place for a child. That’s where CHD’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program of Hampden County comes in, giving kids a voice in the courts. CASA volunteers make a life-changing difference by advocating for local children being placed in foster care or searching for permanent homes.
On December 1, seven new volunteers were sworn into the court’s service as child advocates by First Justice David Paradis during a ceremony at Springfield Juvenile Court.
CASA of Hampden County was founded in 1989 because thousands of abused and neglected children end up in the court system without a caring adult by their side. Appointed by judges, CASA volunteers are the eyes and ears of the court, advocating for children to ensure a safe, permanent home for them. Many of these children have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. In some cases, a CASA is the only consistent adult presence in a foster child’s life.
Cassandra Hildreth, assistant program director for CASA, said that CASA volunteers serve as guardians ad litem for a child or sibling set. “The courts rely on CASA to submit written reports and testimony of facts to the judge overseeing the child’s case so that decisions can be made that are centered on a child’s best interest,” she said.
Rhonda Young, director of Children and Families at CHD, said that the seven volunteers have “wonderful and diverse” backgrounds. “We’re really excited to have this group of volunteers join us,” she said. “Our CASAs share critical, objective information with judges and make informed recommendations to the court.” The advocates help judges get a full picture of each case, providing them with information that they may not otherwise see, such as educational, medical, and therapy records.
Judge Paradis said the court truly appreciates the advocates’ input. “We can only make good decisions if we have good information,” he said. “We depend on these volunteers to provide us with the nuances of each child caregiving situation.”
CASAs also meet with other adults involved in the case and make recommendations that protect the child’s mental and physical well-being.
CASA volunteer Cecile Mujawimana said her training was extensive, but worth it. “I have been a foster mother for a long time,” she said. “Without this program, the children wouldn’t have anyone who speaks to the court on their behalf. This is a wonderful service.”
Fellow CASA advocate Rebecca Kudelka agreed. “I feel grateful to be sworn in today,” she said. “The program really speaks to me, and it’s great to be part of such a dedicated group.”
CASA-supported kids fare better with a CASA volunteer by their side. Studies have shown that they are more likely to find a safe, permanent home and succeed in school. They’re also half as likely to re-enter the foster care system. CASAs work to make the courtroom a place of healing and new beginnings.
For more information about becoming an advocate, call CASA at 413-781-6556 or email [email protected].