Casas Help Children Through System

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The ability to positively influence the life of a child is, for court appointed special advocates or CASAs, a large responsibility.

"One of the greatest rewards in life is being able to make a difference," Nancy Althoff said.

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CASA volunteers take an oath Tuesday to act in the best interest of children caught up in the courts system.

She started the CASA program in 1992 to help children who were caught up in the court system because of bad decisions made by their parents.

Last Tuesday, seven of the 22 CASA volunteers were able to attend the ceremony and take an oath to act in the best interests of children.

"As CASA volunteers, you are officers of the court. You are liaisons, advocates and spokesmen of some of the most vulnerable citizens in our country," Judge Pro Tem Arthur Lloyd told the assembled volunteers and guests. "At times, you may be at odds with the biological parents, maybe even DES caseworkers and that is OK."

When a child is appointed a CASA, that individual must use his or her best judgment while spending time interviewing the child and everyone who affects that child's life.

It can be an intense process at first, requiring about 20 hours the first month.

"I really didn't know what to expect when I first got into it, but it is rewarding and frustrating at times and well worth the effort," said Gayle Buzan, who has been a CASA for over two years.

At least once every six months, the CASA will prepare a report to the court.

"That is the most stressful time, because it is so critical what you put in the report," new CASA Renee Durfee said. "The judge bases his decision partially on your judgment and many times kids' lives are at stake."

Bob Hibbert has been a CASA for four years. His wife, Bobbie, has been a volunteer for three.

"Our cases are prepared together," Bob said. "Before Bobbie became a CASA we couldn't pillow talk."

It is an advantage for the couple to advocate for the same child.

Training is provided both before a person takes on his or her role as an advocate and at monthly meetings.

The October training will help CASAs be more comfortable when they are called to testify in court, a situation CASA coordinator Cecille Masters-Webb said is infrequent, but does happen.

People interested in becoming CASAs may call (928) 474-7145 or e-mail cmasters-webb@courts.sp.state.az.us.

"There are always more children who need an advocate," Masters-Webb said.

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