Eagle County: Child advocates seek volunteers
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Susan Washing doesn’t care about offending a child’s parents, even when they scream at her when their children are taken away from them.
“The only thing a CASA cares about is what’s in the best interest of the child,” said Washing, who calls herself a “CASA,” or a court-appointed special advocate.
Washing is one of 41 volunteers for Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Continental Divide, which serves Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties. Last year, volunteers helped 90 children.
In cases where parents neglect or physically, sexually or emotionally abuse their children, volunteers investigate children’s situations, make recommendations for children to judges and make sure the court’s order are carried out.
Nancy Adam, a volunteer who lives in Vail, said she often works with poor families where in some cases, children have been horribly neglected. Concerned about privacy, volunteers interviewed for this story declined to give specific examples of neglect or abuse.
“It’s just really tragic what some of these children are born into or living in,” Adam said.
Adam, a part-time ski instructor on Vail Mountain, works one case at a time. Her most recent one involves a two-year-old boy whose father abuses alcohol and whose mother has problems with anger. Adam has helped the boy, who has been living with his grandparents, and a judge has taken some of her advice about the case.
Some of the parents neglect their children by failing to clothe or feed them, Washing said. Parents from all ethic groups and races use meth-amphetamine, cocaine and marijuana in most of the cases, she said.
“Our goal is to find (children) a safe and permanent home as soon as possible,” said Colleen Bergman, advocate manager.
In 1977, Seattle Judge David Soukup started the first advocate program because he was concerned about making decisions about abused and neglected children’s lives without enough information. So Soukup used trained volunteers to speak for the best interests of children, according to the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Web site.
Judges throughout the country began using advocates. Today, there are more than 50,000 advocates in 948 offices nationwide. Programs across the country are known by several different names, including Guardian ad Litem, Child Advocates and Voices for Children. In Colorado, there are fourteen CASA programs.
Children who have a volunteer advocate stay in foster care for a shorter time and are put in a permanent home sooner because volunteers work to settle a child’s case faster, Washing said.
Attorneys and criminal justice workers don’t have time for activities like interviewing teachers to see if a child is doing drugs to find out whether they need treatment, she said.
“It’s a very invaluable service,” she said.
Sometimes parents improve their lives and get their children back. A mother recently got her child back after he had been taken away for five months, Bergman said.
“That would be a success story,” Bergman said.
Washing is working three cases now, but that’s unusual, she said.
“We’re just low on volunteers right now,” she said.
Volunteers generally work on a case between three and 18 months, Bergman said. New volunteers are assigned to one case, she said.
Despite frightening situations with emotional, angry parents, Washing likes her job. She has incredible power to improve a child’s life, she said.
Washing’s daughter and stepsons had good, protected lives growing up in the Vail Valley, she said.
“Not all the children growing up here get the same benefits,” she said.
Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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