Volunteer advocates needed

A statewide organization that provides advocates for children during court proceedings is asking for volunteers to be advocates.

The Court Appointed Special Advocate program needs volunteers in eight Webster County cases.

CASA Program Coordinator Amy Carpenter said volunteers are important because they are third parties when it comes to cases.

“They don’t have an invested interest in the case,” Carpenter said. “They’re appointed by the court to look at what’s going to be in the best interest of the child. The judges make sure the volunteers don’t have any sort of underlying issues that would prevent them from being objective in the case.”

In most instances, minors who are being advocated for are going through Children in Need of Assistance hearings. These are held after a child has been removed from their home due to unsafe living conditions, and where the parent or parents risk losing custody of their child.

Every volunteer is trained to advocate for children who have been abused and neglected.

“They meet with kids a minimum of one time per month,” Carpenter said. “They talk with caregivers, foster parents, biological parents, teachers, counselors, doctors. Anybody they need to talk with to find out what’s going on in the child’s life.”

They also track the progress of the child’s biological parents.

“They report all the facts and information they’ve gathered,” she said. “They make recommendations to the judge about what’s going to be in the child’s best interest.”

Carpenter said there are a few volunteer requirements.

“They need to be at least 19 years of age, preferably 21,” she said. “They need to have a passion for helping kids and have a bit of flexibility in their schedules.”

But they don’t need to be experienced with child welfare.

Enlisting more volunteers in Webster County is part of a statewide goal, according to Carpenter.

“Statewide CASA services 15 percent of the kids involved in juvenile court,” she said. “We have a five-year goal to increase that to 60 percent. Obviously, we need more volunteers to do that.”

Those interested can sign up online at casaiowa.org and fill out the application. Carpenter said prospective volunteers can also call her at (866) 923-1083.