Memorize this: 888-SOS-Child.
Got it? Good. You just made Gila County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Coordinator Katrisha Stuler very happy.
Stuler wants to use April’s Child Abuse Awareness Month to get as many people as possible to memorize the number for the Child Abuse Hotline and use it if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. Although using the letter code for 888-767-24453 has an extra number — it will still go through and alert authorities.
“You don’t have to be sure, you just have to have a reasonable suspicion. If we don’t put children first, it will never change.”
Still, she understands some people don’t call for fear of what might happen.
Statistically, Child Protective Services (CPS) very rarely removes a child from the home after a call, but often connects the family with resources to help improve the home.
Unlike the over-extended, slow-to-act CPS staff in the Valley, Stuler says Gila County’s CPS workers are very responsive.
Some 10,000 children languish in Arizona’s foster care system due to parental abuse or neglect at any given moment, which includes 80 children in Gila County. Many of those children rely on a CASA-trained volunteer to speak up for them in court.
Children removed from the home as result of abuse or neglect become wards of the court, usually for at least 18 months as the courts ponder if they can return to their homes. During that time, a CASA volunteer shepherds the child through the hearings needed to determine whether to return the child to his or her home. The volunteer goes to court every 60 to 90 days, Stuler said, who shows up on that first visit to help out.
A juvenile court judge appoints a CASA volunteer as the “eyes and ears of the court.” CASA volunteers speak with parents, foster parents, CPS workers, teachers, and more, to help provide valuable information to the judge.
“We put our reports on blue paper and the judges tell me they look for that blue piece of paper when they are looking at a child’s case. Our newest judge has told me ‘I really rely on it,’” Stuler said.
Currently, 25 cases in Gila County need a CASA volunteer — one in northern Gila County and 24 in the Globe area.
“It is a challenge to recruit CASA volunteers in the Globe area, we only have seven down there. We have 29 in the Payson area. I hope we can cover some of the Globe cases with Payson volunteers,” Stuler said.
Volunteers must undergo a background check, with fingerprints, and complete 32 hours of training. Stuler said some volunteers complete their training in a month, others take two months.
Once they’re trained, some volunteers prefer working with older children; others do better with the younger ones.
If a child has special needs, Stuler tries to find a volunteer with experience in dealing with special needs. She always tries to make the best fit for the child.
CASA volunteers also must work with parents, siblings, grandparents and other relatives of the child during the course of their advocacy.
CASA volunteers need only have a desire to help abused and neglected children. They get training from legal and welfare professionals.
Once assigned to a case, the CASA volunteer reviews records, researches information and talks to everyone involved in the child’s life before making a recommendation to the judge.
“My great love of the program is in the balance I get to see — people are so willing to give so much of themselves for a child and its future compared to those who have done such troubling things to their children. It gives me hope for the future,” Stuler said.
Lottery funds pay for the training, administration and background checks, along with the administrative costs. CASA lacks the funding for gas money or other financial assistance for the volunteers, but does provide moral support and education about resources to the advocates.
Find out more about CASA of Gila County by visiting www.CASAofGilaCounty.org or call (928) 474-7145.