SAFFORD — Children in foster care need help, and the people who help those children are also in need of assistance.
CASA is the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program in which adult volunteers serve as advocates in court for the best interest of children in foster care.
“Typically, when we have a volunteer on a case, it helps children to get a more permanent home in a quicker manner, whether that is them returning to their parents or an adoptive home,” coordinator Brandie Lee said.
Graham County children in need of foster care are between ages of 0 and 12, and 40 percent are under the age of 5.
“We have very few teenagers; we may have two or three teenagers,” Lee said. “Most are with single parents. They may be living with significant others, but they are not married.”
There are 56 children in care right now, and only three have a CASA volunteer.
“I only have one volunteer that is active in Graham County now,” Lee said.
That volunteer is Annie Michener.
“I have always had a heart for children and tried to reach out to them with love and compassion. When I heard about being a child advocate, I was immediately drawn to find out more about the program. It aligned perfectly with my mission to have a hand out to children in need,” Michener said.
When asked what is being done to recruit more volunteers, Lee said, “Unfortunately, when we say CASA, most people think of the restaurant, Casa Manana. Even though this program has been in Graham County since the 1980s, I don’t believe that people know it very well. I think it is just an issue of getting known.”
Each volunteer is asked to work with one to two children, but it may differ from one case to another. Lee said, “That depends on if it is a sibling group. We ask that volunteers work with siblings if more than one comes to care.”
CASA volunteers serve to communicate with the court about the child’s needs, which can include help in school, medical care or special therapy.
“What I see missing is consistency in (the children’s) lives and supportive environments where they are encouraged to get enough rest, take school seriously and eat a proper diet. In the cases that I have been involved with, children were particularly harmed by drug abuse in the family,” Michener said.
Finances can thrust children into foster care.
“Finances sometimes become a problem where parents can’t find adequate housing because their finances are not good,” Lee said.
In such cases, volunteers can help the parents apply for low-income housing, as well as help the parent through the process of applying for food and cash assistance through the state’s Department of Economic Security.
“Our volunteers can help families that may not know how to navigate the system,” Lee said, adding that CASA does not provide families with financial aid, only help the families apply for financial assistance if needed.
“Honestly, a lot of times, the financial burden has come from drugs. At least 75 percent if not more have had drug problems,” Lee said.