NORMAN — Cleveland County Court Appointed Special Advocates will start a new volunteer training session at the end of the month and is looking for volunteers.
The training session will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Norman Regional Hospital Education Center, 901 N. Porter Ave.
The session provide orientation about the program to educate individuals interested in volunteering, said Kathleen Romero, executive director of Cleveland County CASA.
“It will give people an opportunity to learn more about the program,” she said.
CASA volunteers are special advocates for children.
The CASA program trains volunteers a few nights a week for three weeks. There is also a screening process involved before volunteers are appointed to cases.
The children helped by CASA volunteers are already in the child welfare system because of abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers are specifically assigned as objective, independent people in the system who see that children’s needs are being addressed while they are in custody.
“Our main goal is to advocate for the child’s best interest,” Romero said.
Volunteers do not have to have any expertise in the legal arena or child welfare system. However, the organization is looking for a long-term commitment from volunteers.
“It’s not your average volunteer commitment,” Romero said.
Volunteers are asked to commit at least a year to a case. During that time, they will be allowed access to information regarding a child’s case and spend a lot of time with the child and their family.
“Most of our volunteers just have one case so they’re able to devote time and energy to that one case,” she said.
While it is a year-long commitment, Romero said it is a “fantastic reward” and the impact that volunteers make is huge.
A judge created CASA in Seattle in 1977. Cleveland County was one of the first counties in the state to adopt the program in 1985. Last year, the county had around 100 volunteers and were able to serve 229 children. This year, the program is running low on volunteers.
The program typically serves younger children, but the program also serves those up until the age of 18, at which point they age out of the system. However, many children who are in the welfare system who were abused or neglected are fairly young, Romero said.
“As it stands, we only serve 30 to 40 percent of the children in our county in the child welfare system,” Romero said.
Romero said the name of Cleveland County CASA is misleading because “we also serve McClain and Garvin counties.”
Most volunteers are reserved for cases that involve getting children back into their parents’ homes.
For more information, call 360-5295 or visit the website, www.clevelandcountycasa.org.