JACKSON COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – Volunteers with CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, often serve as the only voice for children in the Department of Human and Family Services (DHS) courtroom. This presents a problem in Jackson County, which currently has no volunteer base.
Three people, however, attended a CASA training session Thursday at the Jackson County Library in Newport. Polly Sharp was one of the neighbors who began a prolonged training process that will take 30 hours and involves a background check. Sharp, a retired grandmother, says the extensive preparation is worth it so that she can work with children through CASA.
"There's a great need for somebody to stand up with these children that are in the court system or in foster care or wherever they are," Sharp said. "I think there's a great need now, much more than when I raised my children."
CASA currently has no volunteers in Jackson County, so the group is trying to rebuild its presence there. As advocate coordinator, Shirley Dawson says she is looking for people passionate about kids who can be their voice in the DHS courtroom.
"Our mission is to find a safe, permanent place for the child as soon as possible," Dawson explained. "If you do not have CASA, children linger a long time in the court system."
Despite the initial commitment for training, Dawson says volunteers only handle two DHS cases at a time, and they will often be some of the worst.
"Let's say there's not enough food in the cupboard, and someone reports that," Dawson said. "That's a neglect case, but that's fixable. The cases that we get are generally much more serious."
Dawson, however, promises Sharp and anyone else interested in becoming a volunteer that helping these kids is time well spent.
"I tell them it's probably the most rewarding position you could possibly do," she noted. "I've worked corporations all my career. I have never had a job I like, like this one. Never.
"You see these little children, and you just want to hug them. You just have a passion for them, and you think about what horrible situations some of them live in and you want to see it better for them."
CASA will host another training session in Jackson County on Wednesday, May 9, at 9 a.m. To find out more information, call Shirley Dawson at 870-994-7844.