CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a national program with specially trained volunteers who are appointed by family court judges to act as assistants to the court in child abuse cases. There has been a CASA center in Saginaw for over a decade now, and Bay City is about to get their own.
It all began when the Child Abuse & Neglect Council’s Saginaw and Bay County organizations merged, creating the unified CAN Council Great Lakes Bay Region. After the two counties began consolidating their resources and efforts, former Bay County Probate Judge Karen A. Tighe expressed an interest in opening a CASA program in Bay City.
At that point, discussions began between Suzanne Greenberg who is the CAN Council’s current president, and Judge Tighe, along with representatives from the Department of Human Services and Court personnel. Finally, after almost two years of planning, the National Seattle-based CASA Association gave their formal approval.
According to Tighe, part of the problem they are hoping to alleviate with the program is the issue of continuity for the children. Because the court system tends to have a high turnover rate, children will often have a different case worker every month. But because the CASA volunteers are enrolling specifically to be involved in this process, they will remain with the program for far longer and will provide children with the continuity they need.
In order to be a CASA volunteer, a person must be 21-years-of-age or older and must undergo 40 hours of training and three very extensive background checks. Volunteers are also allowed to choose their cases. This allows them some freedom to select cases they feel will be a good fit for them and alleviate the issue of case overload and performance pressure.
Once a volunteer has been assigned a case, a court order allows them to have access to every single detail and piece of information that pertains to the case. Their purpose is to research the case fully and completely, assess all of the facts, and then attempt to identify problems and submit a report to the court on their findings.
A volunteer is not meant to replace an attorney or a court-appointed child advocate. A CASA volunteer simply helps by being another pair of eyes and ears on a case, providing additional information that would allow a judge to make a more informed decision with regards to the future of a child.
According to Emily Yeager, the marketing manager for the CAN Council, there has been a significant rise in child abuse cases in Bay County in recent years. It is the Council’s hope that the introduction of the CASA program in Bay City will help the court to make sound decisions that are in the best interests of the children of Bay City.