Delaware County’s juvenile court is expanding its “CASA” program to include Union County.

What is CASA? CASA programs arrange for “Court Appointed Special Advocates” for children whose families are in the court system.

Delaware County commissioners on Monday approved a memorandum of understanding that allows Delaware County to develop a joint CASA program with Union County. The memorandum was presented by Delaware County Juvenile Court Judge David Hejmanowski to commissioners.

Delaware County CASA coordinator Tammy Matias told The Gazette: “We had some very preliminary discussions when Judge (Kenneth J.) Spicer was on the bench. When Judge Hejmanowski became judge, it really took off.”

The Delaware County and Union County juvenile courts have been working on obtaining a $233,319 grant from the Victims of Crime Act for about two years in order to start a CASA program in Union County, Matias said. “This grant is administered through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office,” Matias said. The program is too costly for Union County to start on its own.

Hejmanowski explained to commissioners that the role of a CASA is to make contact with families and children that are in the court system to review home situations and report to the court.

Hejmanowski told commissioners, “The CASA program motto is (that) they are the voice of the children in the courtroom.”

CASAs report before every hearing in a case about how parents are progressing in securing employment, in drug and alcohol counseling and in securing housing. They make recommendations to the court which are in the best interests of the children involved in those cases, Hejmanowski said.

The CASA program consists of volunteers who want to help children.

“The volunteers are amazing,” Matias said. “I’ve been with the program for five years.”

Matias said the job of CASAs is difficult at times, especially when they see the conditions some children are living in. “The biggest thing we’re seeing is the heroin epidemic,” Matias said. “It’s running so rapid we can’t keep up with it.”

Addicted parents neglect and physically abuse their children, she said. “Unfortunately the kids are suffering,” she said. “The job of a CASA is making sure the children are being taken care of.”

“It’s hard to look at this stuff every day,” Matias said. “Now the court system makes sure parents are doing what they need to be doing for the retention of the family.”

The CASA program is a national program and was brought to Delaware County in 1984. Union County Juvenile Court Judge Charlotte Coleman Eufinger “has wanted a CASA program for a while,” Matias said.

Delaware County will expand its CASA program by developing a satellite location in Union County. The Delaware County court will share CASA staff with the Union County court. Matias will be the CASA coordinator for both counties, traveling between the two.

“It is about the wishes and desires of the kids being reported to the court,” Hejmanowski said. “There are always more kids than volunteers.”

The program is projected not to cost Delaware County any additional funds, Hejmanowski said.

Anyone who wishes to become a CASA should contact Matias at [email protected] or at 740-833-2634.

By D. Anthony Botkin

[email protected]

D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin