Independence County taps new source for CASA volunteers - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Independence County taps new source for CASA volunteers

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BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – A major shortage of volunteers faces the CASA program in Independence County.

CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, which are volunteers that work with children in the court system that have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.

In the Batesville area alone, there are almost 200 children in this situation needing assistance, but less than a handful of CASA volunteers to help them. That's why the new advocate coordinator for Independence County is trying to basically rebuild the program's volunteer base and feels personally motivated to do so.

"The main challenge for this area is that the program has dwindled down," Angela Chaffin said, "and it's kind of starting up from scratch again."

Chaffin became the county's advocate coordinator in October, and already she has one big problem to correct. The county's volunteer base has basically disappeared. She only has three CASA volunteers right now, but says she needs about 50 to handle the ever-growing number of abuse and neglect cases locally.

 "There are over 170 children in Independence County that are affected by abuse or neglect that need CASA attention," Chaffin said.

As CASA volunteers, she said they often act as the court's eyes and ears.

"What [the advocates] do is gather information covering this child's life – from school, their health, their parents [and] the people that they come in contact with," Chaffin said. "The advocates gather this information, consolidate it, condense it and then present this to the judge, who then makes a decision of where this child is going to go as far as a permanent placement. Therefore, this advocate directly affects the life of this child."

Chaffin has now begun actively recruiting new volunteers. She has targeted Lyon College first, working with the school to give students credit for volunteering. So far, two students have committed to start the six-week training process to become advocates, which Chaffin calls a "great start" to the recruiting effort.

"I feel the need to really push this," she said, "so I'm certainly not discouraged by two."

To find even more volunteers, she plans to speak at all the local civic club meetings next.

Rebuilding the CASA volunteer base is personal for Chaffin, too. As a victim of child abuse herself, she understands how important it is that these young victims in her community have an adult standing up for them.

"When you have a system that is overburdened," she said, "it's difficult to cover every aspect of a child's life, and it's necessary to cover every aspect of a child's life to make the best decision for that child.

"There's no better way to give than this opportunity," she added, "to spend a little bit of time to change the life of a child in your community now."

If anyone is interested in becoming a CASA volunteer in Independence County, call Angela Chaffin at 870-613-1379 or send her an email at casa16ind@gmail.com.

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