Independence County taps new source for CASA volunteers

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

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

In the Batesville area alone, there are almost 200 childrenin this situation needing assistance, but less than a handful of CASAvolunteers to help them. That's why the new advocate coordinator for IndependenceCounty is trying to basically rebuild the program's volunteer base and feelspersonally motivated to do so.

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

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

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

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

"What [the advocates] do is gather information covering thischild's life – from school, their health, their parents [and] the people thatthey come in contact with," Chaffin said. "The advocates gather thisinformation, 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 apermanent placement. Therefore, this advocate directly affects the life of thischild."

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

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

To find even more volunteers, she plans to speak at all thelocal 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 isthat these young victims in her community have an adult standing up for them.

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

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

If anyone is interested in becoming a CASA volunteer inIndependence County, call Angela Chaffin at 870-613-1379 or send her an email atcasa16ind@gmail.com.

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