Page 106 - Cityview Magazine - July/August 2017
P. 106

But the work is more than just meetings.
“It’s a big important part,” Bailey says, “but it may involve going to schools
and gathering info, checking in with other agencies, and interviewing family members not living in the home.”
Advocates speak with and gather records from parents, grandparents, custodians, teachers, and therapists. They even look up school records to get a snapshot of the child’s performance in academics. This is why Sink calls CASAs the “fact finders of the court.”
All of this work seems to have an impact on those watching from the courtroom, people like Alison Starnes-Anglea, a contract staff attorney for the State of Tennessee Department of Human Services. Starnes-Anglea has spent a lot of time
in juvenile court watching CASAs work. She was stirred by their preparedness, awareness, and “true understanding of the needs of the children.”
“The volunteers are always ready. They know everything a person in their role should know,” she says. “It’s a stressful place, but they are always very professional and prepared and you can just feel how engaged they are with the child, the family and other providers.”
Starnes-Anglea was so moved by their work that she joined the organization’s Board of Directors four years ago. Today, she serves as the board’s president.
The Final Report
CASAs can work for weeks, even months, on one single case. They typically do one at a time. Bailey, who was named Volunteer of the Year this year by CASA, now takes on two cases at a time. She has had cases last roughly a year-and-a-half from start to finish and others that last only a couple of weeks.
Everything an advocate finds during that time is put into a comprehensive report for the court, which includes recommendations for next steps.
“It’s a compilation of documentation about the life of the child, including how the child is doing in school, how the child is medically, and psychological records for the child or parents,” Irwin says. “It includes a look inside the cupboards to make sure there is enough food. Is the home clean? What activities is the child involved in? What are their stressors? The report sort of gives us a head start when we come to court.”
None of the information found by an advocate is shared among parties prior
to the court hearing. During that time, everyone involved in the case receives the report and the advocate attends the hearing in case the judge has any questions.
“We’re not there to judge anybody,” Sink says.
Every case is different, but recommendations could be made for the child to continue going to therapy, for a mom to attend a parenting class, or for someone close to the child to attend an anger management class or seek alcohol or drug treatment.
“They weigh that report really heavily,” Bailey says. “We do have an opportunity to make a difference with all the other agencies, to work together and make better situations and, hopefully, break the cycle of abuse.”
A Backbone of Support
An organization is only as strong as its foundation and many involved with CASA rave about its staff and the work they do to support these advocates. For Bailey, her gratitude comes from the support staff provided to volunteers, whether helping them with a report or accompanying them on a home visit. For Irwin, his appreciation is for the fact that the support staff provides a solid foundation so the work can continue.
“They are a small staff with a small budget, but this staff is empowered by the work of these good people who come in, are not compensated, and take on the struggles of these children,” he says.
CASA of East Tennessee runs on an annual $160,000 budget. Funding comes from grants, county funding as a defined services provider, United Way, the state, and the Tennessee Commission on Youth. Two fundraisers a year –the Red Shoe Gala in February and one small event
in the summer—round out its financial needs, but the organization is constantly looking to expand its donor pool to keep this important work going and growing.
“CASA couldn’t be described with any other word than ‘vital’ for the children of Knox County” Starnes-Anglea says.
“There’s no other role like it.”
Rebecca Whalen lives and works in New York, where she enjoys life as a new mom and practices yoga as her exercise of choice for both body and mind.

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