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CASA GRANDE — Court Appointed Special Advocates have been standing up for children in Arizona’s foster care system for 35 years. CASA volunteers are everyday people who get to know assigned kids, talk with everyone involved in the case and help judges identify the best outcome for the child.

More than 25,000 children in Arizona have benefited from having a CASA volunteer on their side, a press release from the program said.

The CASA program began in Seattle in 1977 when juvenile court judge David Soukup decided he needed an unbiased source to help guide him in juvenile cases. Pima County in Arizona started the second program in the nation in 1979 and CASA of Arizona was formed in October of 1985. The Arizona Legislature passed a bill in 1991 that allowed CASA of Arizona to have 30% of unclaimed lottery winnings. The funding mechanism allowed CASA of Arizona to open a program in all of Arizona’s 15 counties, the press release said.

“We’re proud of the growth CASA of Arizona has experienced over 35 years,” Deidre Calcoate, program manager for CASA of Arizona, said in the press release. “We have such dedicated volunteers who are changing the lives of children who have experienced abuse and/or neglect. This is not easy work but we know it is important work. In a system that is so overwhelmed, our volunteers provide an extra set of eyes and ears for juvenile judges who make life-changing decisions for children in out-of-home care.”

Children with a CASA volunteer are more likely to receive services, twice as likely to find a safe, permanent home, and half as likely to re-enter the foster care system. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 children in foster care in Arizona gets the support of a CASA volunteer, the press release said.

There are nearly 1,200 CASA volunteers serving children in Arizona. During the 35th anniversary, CASA of Arizona is encouraging more people to get involved. The CASA of Pinal County has been part of the state program for 32 of those years.

“We are always in need of more dedicated volunteers who have the passion to help children. We provide excellent training, mentoring and guiding the volunteer through the process,” Donna McBride, Pinal County Juvenile Court program administrator, said.

Child abuse statistics, according to the press release:

  • In fiscal year 2020, the statewide Child Abuse Hotline received 155,905 calls.
  • Neglect is the most common form of child abuse followed by physical abuse.
  • The largest portion of children who are in out-of-home care in Arizona (44.6%) are 5 or younger.

CASA volunteers must:

  • Be at least 21 years old.
  • Go through a rigorous screening process including interviews, reference check, a fingerprint check, child welfare history check and a polygraph exam.
  • Be asked to make a commitment to one case until its conclusion, typically involving 15-20 hours per month.
  • Complete 30 hours of preservice training.
  • Build a 360-degree view of the child and his or her surroundings. To do this, they meet with teachers, counselors, physicians, care takers, etc.
  • Work to ensure that children are in safe, permanent homes where they can thrive.

To learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer in Pinal County, call 520-866-7076 or visit www.CASAofPinalCounty.org.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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