Casas Volunteer Emotional Strength, Provide Help For Children In Foster Care

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Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) become a ray of hope for children placed in foster care.

While cared for outside the parental home, the child will meet many new people, including counselors, judges, attorneys, visitation supervisors and teachers.

Life becomes a bit easier for a child with a CASA as a "special friend," an adult, appointed by a judge whose only purpose is to advocate for the best interests of the child.

Cases might last a few months or years.

"All the heartache, the miles driven, the hours spent become worthwhile when whatever is good for the child is the outcome," Leslie Tarallo said.

She and her husband Robert have been CASAs since April 2002.

"Being a CASA with my husband helps enormously because we have a place to vent," Leslie said.

Like other CASAs, the Tarallos must meet the challenge of being objective in the reports they write for the judge.

Payson is a small town so chance meetings between children, CASAs and parents happen more often than they would in a large city.

"We have never run into parents with an attitude," Pat Kortman said.

"I think the parents realize we are information gatherers, there for the good of the child," Pat said.

CASAs acknowledge the powerful emotions they and the child often feel.

"It is impossible not to get attached," Leslie said.

One child the Tarallos advocated years for, was adopted.

"She still calls us her CASA grandparents," Leslie said.

"You have to know that as a CASA (volunteer) you are the eyes and ears of the judge. You can have emotions and feelings and write them in your report to the court. But it is not about you, it is about the child. You are not the decision maker, Pat said.

Having couples participate as CASAs volunteers is "fairly unique" in Gila County versus Arizona, according to Katrisha Stuler, CASA director in Payson.

"I am trying to recruit more that way. A retired couple can draw on each other's skills and for emotional strength," Stuler said.

Bob Hibbert became a CASA in 2003 so he could edit his wife Bobbie's reports for the judge.

Because the children Bobbie was advocating for were underage females, it made sense for the Hibberts to continue volunteering as team.

Now Bob is using his five years of experience as a CASA, to mentor new CASAs.

"I think anybody who cares about kids, has the time and the emotional stamina to deal with children who truly have needs that are not being met should consider being a CASA," Bob Hibbert said.

There are monthly volunteer meetings where CASAs train with and mentor each other.

All CASAs begin the program with a dozen hours of training.

When monthly workshops come up on topics such as how meth affects families, those trainings are open to professionals from Gila Family Advocacy Center, mental health and other community agencies that could benefit.

"My philosophy is the more we can pull together as a community, the more powerful we are and the better able to problem-solve to help families without giving up confidentiality," Stuler said.

As of March 1, there were four couples and 10 single CASAs in the Rim Country.

"I'd love to be in position with three people trained and ready to jump into a case as soon as one came up," Stuler said.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Founded: CASA became active in Payson in 1989.

Officers: Katrisha Stuler, foster care manager

Purpose/mission statement: CASAs mission is to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children who are involved in the juvenile courts.

CASA promotes and supports community-based volunteers, certified by the Supreme Court, who provide quality advocacy to help assure each child a safe, permanent, nurturing home.

Contact info / website: www.azcasa.org

How to join: Contact the Payson office at (928) 474-7145 or e-mail KStuler@courts.az.gov

Meetings: CASA meetings are just for CASAs, but Stuler is happy to talk to potential CASAs anytime they wish to call or make an appointment.

Contributions to community / major projects: A CASA is a trained citizen, appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in court. Most of the children are victims of abuse and neglect, and have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services. Children helped by CASAs include those for whom placement is being determined in juvenile court.

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