LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Five new volunteers from Fayette and Bourbon counties were sworn in as Court-Appointed Special Advocates the week of Thanksgiving, joining a growing number of people choosing to help abused and neglected children.
The new CASA volunteers were sworn to confidentiality by family court Judge Lisa Hart Morgan in a virtual ceremony held over Zoom. It is the fourth such virtual ceremony the nonprofit CASA of Lexington has held since the pandemic began, swearing in a total of 49 new volunteers.
Judge Morgan told the new volunteers CASA advocacy has had a huge impact on the futures of children involved in her court, which covers Bourbon, Scott and Woodford counties.
“I started in this position in 2015, and we did not have a CASA program in any of the three counties. We now – thankfully, thankfully, thankfully – have them in all three,” she said. “It has been just such a tremendous resource for everyone involved in the dependency and neglect process. It’s been especially helpful to me, and of course to our families.”
CASA volunteers are regular community members who complete a 30-hour training, currently offered in a completely virtual format by CASA of Lexington, and then are assigned to family court cases involving child abuse and neglect.
The volunteers visit with the children regularly, interview adults involved in their lives, and file reports and recommendations with the judge on what would be in the best interest of the children.
The pandemic has complicated things greatly for family courts across the state, as they switch to virtual formats and plans in individual cases are delayed or changed.
CASA of Lexington Executive Director Melynda Jamison said sometimes, a child’s CASA volunteer may be the only one who was able to actually see a child and assess the situation in between court hearings.
“We have been hearing from all five of our judges … how important the CASA reports are in helping them have more pieces of the puzzle to make a more informed decision,” she said. “I know Judge Morgan is tickled to have more volunteers coming to the Bourbon County court … right now looks a little different. We are pivoting in lots of different ways.”
Judge Morgan told the five newest CASA volunteers she is grateful for the people who are stepping up right now to fill such an important need.
“During this time where resources are stretched so thin, we know that more of these kinds of concerns are going on, kids aren’t in school – it’s just becoming even more and more of a critical role, this advocacy for the children,” she said. “I do thank you all so much for the tremendous time and commitment that you have decided to devote to these families … I think it does make a huge difference in the court system and in these families’ lives.”
CASA of Lexington switched to offering virtual training for new CASA volunteers over the summer, as the pandemic prevented in-person gatherings but the need for more volunteers continued unabated.
“This has looked a little different, but it seems to be working well and we’ve had multiple classes go through the guided learning, which is what the online training is called,” she said. “And they have been sworn in and are actively working cases, so it’s going well.”
CASA of Lexington’s next virtual trainings with open seats will begin in mid-February.
New volunteers must be 21 years old, pass a background check and complete their training before being appointed to a case.
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