PORTSMOUTH — At Monday’s County Commissioner meeting, the commissioners voted for the Victims of Crime Act and State Victims Assistance Act Grant of $29,877.
The grant is done through the prosecutor’s office and is being awarded to the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) which is used to help victims of crime.
“We came today to present and hear about the VOCA Grant, which is what funds our program,” said Cortney Reiser, Executive Director of Scioto CASA. “Our goal is to be able to accept all of the abuse/neglect cases that come through juvenile court.”
The CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate)/ GAL (Guardian ad Litem) Program is a national program that has been in existence since 1977. It is a court-based, non-profit organization that recruits and trains community volunteers to become Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) for children who are involved in the court system.
Reiser said there are currently 400 kids in foster care.
“I don’t think people are aware of how big of a crisis we are in with Children’s Services with our foster care situation,” said Commissioner, Bryan Davis. “Placement is becoming very difficult and many children are coming out of situations that are very difficult.”
Reiser said VOCA funding was cut for the rest of the year which funds the majority of what CASA does.
“I was in a panic but I am thankful we are able to get additional funding through Ohio CASA to cover our program because we really need it, especially here,” said Reiser.
Training classes to become a member of CASA are offered by Reiser.
“If someone is interested they would contact me and we would do 15 hours of training in person and 17 hours of online, then they would come into the courthouse and be sworn in,” said Reiser.
A volunteer is assigned to cases where children are alleged to be abused, neglected, or dependent. A CASA/GAL is an official part of the judicial proceedings, working alongside attorneys and social workers. The volunteer will work to gather information and make recommendations regarding the children’s best interest to the judge presiding over the case.
Reiser hopes to create a learning lab where pre-service advocates come in and is presented with a fake court case.
“I think sometimes it’s a little bit intimidating for someone who hasn’t been in court before but when they come in and realize the impact they have and their recommendation to the court is valued they start to see the importance of it and understand it a little bit better,” said Reiser.
A member of CASA is assigned one to two cases at a time to focus on those children.
“Once a month they would meet with them and interview all parties in their life like foster parents, biological parents, their caseworker, and their school setting,” said Reiser. “One of my big goals is to advocate for educational consistency where kids are remaining in their current schools if at all possible so the CASA would be able to help advocate for that and would be able to write reports and come to their court hearings to advocate for the recommendation of the child.”
Reiser said anyone who cares about children would be a great person to join CASA.
“Teachers are really great CASA’s because they see a lot of kids at school that they would like to advocate for, we have a couple of nurses, we have some retired teachers, but really anyone who wants to make a difference in a child’s life and they are able to volunteer their time,” said Reiser. “It’s going to make a difference to that child because you will start the case and be there from the beginning where not a lot of adults in their life will be consistent throughout that time period.”
For more information or if interested in becoming a CASA, contact Cortney Reiser at [email protected],(740) 352-5874, or visit sciotocasa.org.
Reach Darian Gillette at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931, or by email at [email protected]
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