“Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.”
— Rita Pierson
“There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.”
— Mohandas Gandhi
Earlier this week, you may have read a story in the Delaware Gazette about a joint agreement between Delaware County and Union County to expand Delaware County’s CASA program. The article noted that at their meeting on Monday, Delaware County commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding between the counties. What the article didn’t do was give you the “why” behind the expansion.
Cases involving the abuse or neglect of children, or alleging that children are dependent, are brought into juvenile courts by the various county child protective services agencies. Their names vary a bit from county to county, but in Delaware County that organization is the children’s services division of the Delaware County Department of Job and Family Services, under the able and efficient direction of David Dombroski.
Children’s services agencies are the government arm that investigates allegations of child abuse, neglect and dependency. Where possible, they attempt to work cooperatively with parents and to avoid the need for a court filing. But where there is a risk to the health or well-being of children or where voluntary plans have not worked and a child may need to be removed from a dangerous situation, formal action becomes necessary.
Once cases are filed in juvenile courts, attorneys are appointed for the parents, a guardian ad litem is appointed for the children and the children’s services agency is represented by the prosecutor’s office. This is where CASA steps in to provide assistance to the court and to help ensure a positive outcome for the children.
CASA is a national program that trains volunteers to assess cases, meet with parents and children, and to serve as “a child’s voice in court.” CASA volunteers usually have only one or two cases at a time and so have the opportunity to form a close relationship with the children and families whose cases they serve.
Before each hearing, the CASA volunteer files a written report with the court. That report details the CASA’s contacts with the people involved in the case, developments since the last hearing, and makes recommendations to the court on what new or modified orders should be made. When taken in conjunction with the reports of the case worker, the guardian ad litem and the attorneys in the case, the CASA report becomes a tremendously helpful tool to aid the court in making appropriate orders.
Over the past several years, the CASA program in Delaware County has grown substantially. From a low point of just 14 volunteers several years ago, the program has expanded to more than 30 volunteers today. Much of the funding for the program comes from the federal Victims of Crime Act and the State Victim’s Assistance Act.
An expansion in available funding through the VOCA/SVAA grant allowed additional dollars to be appropriated specifically to expand CASA services into Union County. Judge Charlotte Coleman Eufinger of the Union County Juvenile Court has provided leadership in welcoming the program to Marysville and CASA director Tammy Matias and her staff have already begun working to recruit new volunteers.
The expansion carries the obvious benefit of bringing CASA services to the children and families of Union County. But beyond that, it significantly expands the potential volunteer search area to the benefit of both counties. Multi-county cooperative programs are favored in several areas under Ohio law as they reduce expenses and unnecessary duplication.
CASA volunteers are always needed. If you would like to know more about CASA, or would like to volunteer to serve as a CASA in Delaware or Union counties, go to www.casadelco.org or call 740-833-2654.
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Common Pleas Court.