On Monday, Jefferson County Judge Linda Bauer swore in four new Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to help advocate for children involved in court cases through no fault of their own.
Don Cook, Southeast Nebraska CASA Program Coordinator, is thrilled to have Jami Baloun-Diller, Carol Kruger, Gary Mitchell and Kim Williams become the newest CASAs in Jefferson County, though he notes there is still a need for volunteers.
“These volunteers will be assigned to court cases in Jefferson County and one will be in Thayer County,” said Cook. “Basically, it gives four more families a CASA volunteer, who are a voice for the children who are in foster care for no reason of their own. The cases come from either neglect or abuse. Our volunteers visit them twice a month and do a court report for the judge to let the know how the child is doing and how the child feels. They look out for the general safety of the child and are a companion for the child. This brings our total to seven volunteers in the county, but we could probably use five or six more volunteers to handle all of the cases here.”
“I think that CASAs serve a unique role in the system,” Bauer said. “They are the only ones who are able to be the eyes and ears of the juvenile without having any other agenda. They’re able to just talk to the child and listen to the child. There might be really subtle details that they are able to provide to the court that are so helpful in getting a bigger picture in these cases.
“I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t a time commitment, because it is,” Bauer continued. “On the other hand, I can think of few instances where you’re able to make a bigger difference in someone’s life. I’m impressed by the program because of how thorough it is. The only complaint that I have is that there aren’t enough volunteers for the cases that we have. We really need the volunteers and advocates in each case, so I’m looking forward to having these new volunteers.”
Williams, who decided to join CASA after reading a news article online about a court case involving juveniles, is excited to volunteer her time and to advocate for children.
“I want to help kids, which is why I’m in school for criminal justice,” said Williams. “I was on Facebook one day and there was a news article about some kids that were abused, and that’s when I decided to join CASA and do something about it. I was abused and neglected as a child, and I know the impact that it can have on a child even into their adult lives, and I always wished there was someone there who could help me, so I want to be that person for other kids.”
Cook explained that Southeast Nebraska CASA plans to have a volunteer training every quarter to try to gain more volunteers to support children in the area. He encourages people to reach out to him if they are interested in becoming a volunteer.
“Our volunteers are kind of like the eyes of the judge in the field,” said Cook. “It’s an important position. We’ve had volunteers who’ve completed cases and still have contact with the juveniles involved in those cases because they made a difference in their lives. You have a chance to change someone’s life. All it takes is one person who shows that they care to make a difference in a child’s life.”
(Photos Submitted By Don Cook)