CASA seeks volunteers for its nearly 25-year-old program
The offices of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cherokee Country offices are inside the Tahlequah Municipal Armory at 201 E. Delaware St. CASA serves children in the Cherokee Nation, Cherokee County and Adair County court systems. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A poster hangs inside Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cherokee Country offices defining what a CASA advocate is and does. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Since 1995, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cherokee Country, a nonprofit organization, has trained volunteers to be advocates for neglected or abused children in the Cherokee Nation, Cherokee County and Adair County court systems.
Advocates are trained to gather information for a case that helps a child have a better future.
Anyone 21 years old and older are eligible to be an advocate, and are trained for five weeks every Monday, through online training, and Thursday, in person at the CASA office by advocate coordinator Liz Rainbolt.
“The advocate is simply there to gather information. Because they are court appointed special advocates, there’s a court order that the judge gives to each advocate and that would entitle an advocate to read any document, visit with any individuals they feel important to the case and then they gather information and put it in a form of a court report,” Jo Prout, CN citizen and CASA executive editor, said.
Prout said judges rely on CASA reports for the best interest of the child or children in each case.
“An advocate for CASA can say what he or she feels needs to be done for that child. Because the point is to say what’s in the best interest of that child right now and three months later that might change, and that’s the CASA’s job,” Prout said.
CASA of Cherokee Country is financially aided by the CN for serving a majority of Cherokee children within the tribe’s jurisdiction. In fiscal year 2018-19, CASA advocates served 82 children, with a majority being Cherokee. Since its inception in 1995, CASA has consistently served 70 percent to 90 percent of Cherokee children in the court systems.
“The Cherokee Nation is so supportive of this program because we serve so many Native children. Financially, they make it possible for us to operate. Without the Cherokee Nation money we would not be able to open the doors. They’ve supported us from the very beginning,” Prout said.
CASA has 20 advocates but are always looking for more so that they may take on more cases.
Prout said advocates cannot just pick and choose which cases they take because they have to be appointed by a judge. “The judges make those decisions, and we inform them over and over again, every day of every week, we have advocates available, please assign cases. They sometimes do and sometimes don’t.”
Prout and Rainbolt agreed that some cases take too long and that can affect the child being in the system for long periods of time. If the advocate can help get a case finished, it is a better outcome for the child, and they can go to a loving home.
“Chances are that child has been moved around and every move re-traumatizes the child,” Rainbolt said.
Advocates are also provided a travel stipend to offset costs of required visits to children. CASA of Cherokee Country is the only program in Oklahoma to provide the stipend.
“The whole goal of this program, there’s no other goal, except to make sure each child gets a safe permanent home. I mean its that way across the country,” Prout said.
CASA of Cherokee Country is one of thousands of CASA programs throughout the country that operates through the National CASA Association.
The next training begins Aug. 5 and applications are being taken. CASA of Cherokee Country is located at 201 E. Delaware St. For more information, call 918-456-8788 or visit www.cherokeecasa.org
and CASA of Cherokee Country on Facebook.