by Suzanne A. Fasing
A voice for abused and neglected children in Denver Juvenile Court
Protection of children is a shared value that transcends time and cultures. Since ancient times,
However, in the Denver community, too many children are at risk. Recent news reports describe the growing incidence of child abuse in Colorado, an overburdened child protection system and tragic outcomes for children.
In Denver, volunteers of Child Advocates, known as "court-appointed special advocates" (CASA), provide a voice for children in dependency and neglect cases. These children have had heart-breaking experiences — subjected to physical or sexual abuse; endangered by domestic violence in their home; or neglected because of a parent’s substance abuse, mental illness or incarceration. Despite the mistreatment, it still can be a wrenching experience for the children to be removed from their home, separated from their parents and placed in foster care. Understandably, some children have emotional and behavioral problems.
The CASA program is authorized by C.R.S. § 19-1-201 et seq., of the Children’s Code. CASA volunteers are sworn as officers of the court. Volunteers work to complement, not to duplicate, the work of the court-appointed guardian ad litem. CASA volunteers are carefully recruited, screened and trained by the staff of Child Advocates, and are professionally supervised by the staff throughout their involvement in a case. Volunteers come from all walks of life.
CASA volunteers appear at court hearings and submit court reports. In addition to visiting the children in their foster home, volunteers also are permitted by the Children’s
Code to obtain confidential information from a child’s physician, therapist, or school. A volunteer makes recommendations to the court about issues such as the child’s safety in a foster home, visitation with parents, siblings and other relatives, and the child’s needs for medical, mental health and educational services. The volunteers also advocate plans for a permanent home for the children, for example, a return to their parents or adoption following termination of parental rights.
CASA volunteers are a source of hope and healing for children who are among the most vulnerable in our community. In 2007, there were 581 open dependency and neglect cases in Denver Juvenile Court involving 1,107 children. Child Advocates served 211 of these children. In 2007, Child Advocate volunteers donated more than 6,000 hours to children in Denver Juvenile Court cases. The CASA’s role is especially important in a child protection system with strained resources.
There is a great need for CASA volunteers in Denver. Child Advocates, a nonprofit organization, relies almost entirely on private funding for its operation. Lawyers and law firms are natural partners to support the mission of Child Advocates who are the voice for children in Denver Juvenile Court cases. What can you do?
• Volunteer as a court-appointed special advocate or recruit a volunteer.
• Attend the "Light up the Night" benefit event on September 19, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
• Run in the Denver Marathon, on behalf of Child Advocates, on October 19.
• Make a donation to Child Advocates.
Every contribution makes a difference in the life of a child. For further information, visit the website, www.denvercasa.org, or call the Child Advocates office at (303) 832-4592.