Struggling CASA in need of volunteers

Photo by Jeff Baughan Court Appoint Special Advocates Program Director Margaret Burdette stands between two cabinets of CASA case files. Burdette said CASA is representing over 300 children due to the drug use epidemic.

PARKERSBURG — Court Appoint Special Advocates (CASA) Program Director Margaret Burdette has two large metal file cabinets in her Market Street office. Not those single file width cabinets; no, these are the mega cabinets. Burdette needs the mega cabinets.

“Due to the drug epidemic in the Mid-Ohio Valley, CASA is representing over 300 children,” said Burdette. “At the end of December of 2017, we had that year alone, 330 new cases. That’s not counting the ones from 2016 which were carry overs.

“We’ve had 159 new cases for 2018 for Wood County and 15 new ones from Wirt County,” she added. “We’ve got more kids than volunteers able to help. We need the help now.”

According to wvcasa.org, the CASA volunteer “provides a voice for abused and neglected children who find themselves in the court system. Volunteer advocates offer judges and officials the critical information they need to ensure each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care. Often a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in a child’s life.”

Burdette said there “are many lists which fall under the umbrella of ‘neglect.’ There are basic needs like food, water, shelter, physical and sexual abuse.

When the reports and referrals are made to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR) , they have to go and investigate the situation.

“Once the WVDHHR has custody of the child, they file petitions and the judges ratify petitions.,” she continued. “Then the judges send CASA a copy of the petition so they can get involved.”

Burdette said at this time is when the CASA volunteers are assigned.

“The multi-disciplinary teams (MDT) work with the DHHR, CASA and court appointed attorneys.

“CASA will do at least one face to face meeting with a child per month; and I tell you, the need for foster homes in this area are at an all time high,” she paused and sighed, returning to her statement. “We stay on the case with foster parents, relatives, grandparents, wherever they are. We watch out for the best interest of the child or children.”

Once the children are in the DHHR/CASA program, “parents have to do a number of things before they can regain custody of their children,” according to Burdette. “Drug related cases can go on for months if the rents are trying to get clean and sober. CASA is a mainstay in kids lives until permanency is achieved. The ultimate objective is reunify kids with parents.”

Burdette said becoming a volunteer is relatively simple.

“They will have to attend training in Parkersburg for a couple of nights a week for several weeks at the CASA office.

“Volunteers do amazing work for children. These compassionate community members stand up and become the voice on behalf of the children. They are the voice to ensure safe and proper permanency is achieved for the child,” she said. “These CASA volunteer advocates believe each child deserves to grow up in a safe, stable and loving home.

“CASA volunteers are community members from all walks of life; but, all have a unique quality that can be passed on to a child. That one mainstay in their life while they are in the court system and CASA is the only program allowed in a courtroom. In the courtroom, we have a voice for the child.”

CASA operates on grants and fundraising. CASA is hosting “A Night of Mystery and Intrigue” Oct. 18 at the American Legion Post 15 at 2505 Ohio Ave. in Parkersburg. Tickets are $50 per ticket and $35 per single. For more information about becoming a CASA volunteer, call 304-422-3390.

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