Court Appointed Special Advocates work to keep up with demand of kids in need

New CASA's go through orientation before they can become advocates for children in the legal system. Photo by Audrey Weil.

EUGENE, Ore. -- A recent report shows dozens of Oregon children were left in unsafe conditions by state social workers who wrongly determined the kids were safe.

In light of the study, children's advocates say this is why their job is so important.

The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Lane County step in to help children in abusive situations.

They're court appointed special advocates; they work on behalf of kids in the child welfare system.

"It's an overburdened system and that's the whole reason that casa even exists. We were created to help fill that gap and be an extra set of eyes and ears for these kiddos," spokesperson Katie Gatlin said.

Lane County has about 1,500 children in foster care.

CASA serves 423 of them with 225 volunteers.

But the demand keeps growing.

We've got 177 kids on our waiting list right now and they need an advocate," Gatlin said.

Cases range from abuse to switching foster homes.

"You see parents that love their children, there is no doubt how much these parents love their children but they don't have the tools or they don't have the resources to be able to get their children what they need," Alma Hesus said.

She's been a CASA for four years.

She says CASA's work with everyone involved in the case.

"As the eyes and ears of the judge you're making a recommendation to the judge, and the parent understands and the child understands," Hesus said. "By showing kids that there's something different, showing them grown ups are here to help you, take you out of a bad situation, get you somewhere you need to be, that's going to prevent long term cycles of abuse because that kiddo is going to know that something exists different from what they grew up in."

She says it's not always a fairy tale ending but it does make for a better life.

CASA's spend anywhere from a few months to ten years with the children they advocate for.

CASA of Lane County says they are always looking for volunteers.

They say anyone in the county who would like to be a volunteer or who wants to refer a child to their program, can give them a call at (541) 984-3132.

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