CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a nonprofit advocacy group that serves the children of Cullman County, opened its doors Thursday evening for a public open house event. CASA volunteers advocate for children who have come into the Cullman County court system due to abuse, neglect or family custody issues.
CASA is a third-party entity which helps to make sure that a child’s best interests are being served and that permanency is being achieved as quickly as possible. Trained personnel are assigned to specific cases by courts and conduct independent investigations into cases of abuse, to do whatever is in the child’s best interest.
Cullman County CASA is under the umbrella of Cullman Caring for Kids (CCK).
CASA Case Director and Program Manager Candace Lingo said Thursday night’s event was CASA’s first ever open house.
CCK Executive Director and Cullman County CASA Co-Director Javon Daniel shared, “We’re very honored to be able to do Cullman County CASA here at Cullman Caring for Kids.”
Daniel said the process of starting Cullman County started in 2005, and the nonprofit was certified in 2007.
“It took us almost two years to get everything done to be certified by the National CASA Association by the state CASA network, and in 2007 we accomplished those goals. We had our first training, appointed our first volunteers in 2008, and we’ve been at it for almost 12 years. Right now, we have 24 volunteers, and those 24 volunteers are advocating for 94 children who are in the court system because of abuse and neglect.”
Daniel said those 94 children range in age from infancy to 18.
CASA’s slogan this year is “Do something, change a child’s story.”
“The story may start the same, but at some point in time it can take two very different paths,” Daniel said.
“We’re third-party. We don’t work for DHR, an attorney or any other provider that’s on a case,” said Lingo. “We are independent investigators and what we do is we advocate for the child and only the child. Now sometimes, we’re advocating for the child to go home, sometimes for them to go to a relative and sometimes we’re advocating for adoption. We’re also advocating for the child to make sure their mental health is OK, that their medical needs are met, that they’re receiving tutoring in school and make sure that they’re going to school. Whatever it is that the child is lacking we want to fill that need somehow or another or make sure that that need is being filled.”
Continued Lingo, “We also interact with parents or family because it is every child’s right to go home, no matter the situation, if it’s possible to go home or if it’s safe to go home. So, we do go to the parents’ home. We find out where they’re working and make sure the income is sufficient, and if it’s not, let’s try to find a program that can help them with that. If that’s not possible, then we start looking into relatives- we want to look at adoptive placements. Ultimately, we build a bond with that child. They need somebody to confide in, they need somebody that’s going to be there and be consistent and talk to them.”
Daniel told The Tribune previously: “Volunteers, strictly volunteers, are trained, screened very thoroughly, and then after that is done, then they are sworn in by the district court judges, and they become court officials on a case that they are assigned to. Their job, in those instances, is to do their own investigation to determine the facts about a particular case. They are assigned to a case of a child who is in court for abuse or neglect, and they do their own investigation. When they’re finished with the investigation, they write a report to the judge, and in that report, they state the facts that they learned during the investigation and make recommendations to the judge, based on those facts.”
Open house visitors also got a tour of the CCK food bank to show other ways the organization helps those in need in the community.
At the end of the evening, the Cullman Community Lions Club presented two donations to the CCK food bank: 76 pounds of food and a $500 check.
“The Cullman Community Lions Club has been so supportive of Cullman Caring for Kids over the years and we really appreciate them,” said Daniel.
Find out more about CASA and CCK at www.cullmancaringforkids.com/casa.html.
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