By Jamal Thomas
Prattville, AL- In Alabama, there are more than 15,000 children in the juvenile court system because of neglect or abuse. Many of these children are in foster care and do not receive the proper care or services that they need. In a cumbersome social welfare system, many of the children in our State are overlooked. To help combat this issue, the Alabama- Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Network was established to advocate for neglected and abused children.
“We make sure each child has a voice” said Pam Tindal, Program Director at Alabama CASA- Autauga County. “Children in foster care feel that everyone else makes decisions for them and their lives.”
In 1977, the first CASA pilot program was launched by Judge David Soukup, a juvenile court judge in Seattle. Soukup was concerned that there was too little information available to base life-changing decisions about the safety, permanency and well-being of children. To address this issue, Soukup decided to start training community members to advocate for neglected and abused children in the courtroom.
The Alabama CASA Network was incorporated in 1997. Currently, there are 14 CASA programs in the state that service 20 counties. The Autauga County CASA Program was established in April 2018.
The duties and responsibilities of a CASA volunteer include making sure that services like counseling are provided as ordered by the courts. CASA’s donate their time, investigate in the field, and speak solely for the interests and well-being of the child. “We are the eyes and ears of the judge” said Tindal.
In addition, CASA volunteers conduct home evaluations and make sure that children are living in a safe environment. They make sure that each child receives adequate food and clothing. “The main thing is to visit the child and spend time with them” Tindal shared.
To become a CASA volunteer, an individual must be at least 21 years of age and able to pass an extensive background check. Volunteers are required to participate in an in-depth training program and have transportation. In addition, CASA volunteers must be willing to commit several hours of time each month for at least one year.
Tindal is celebrating her first year as Program Director for Alabama- CASA Autauga County and has already set some milestones. First, she has grown the organization to 10 volunteers. In addition, a total of 30 children were served in 2018. Tindal is already looking forward to double that number to 60. Prior to becoming Program Director, Tindal served as a CASA volunteer for 6 years.
The mission of the Alabama CASA Network, Inc. is to equip and empower CASA programs to advocate for all of Alabama’s abused and neglected children.
For more information or to become a volunteer visit www.alabamacasa.org or call 334-203-1415.
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