CASA of Crittenden County expanding its reach

Foster child advocacy group has new name, larger service area

By Ralph Hardin ralphhardin@gmail.com

For a number of years, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Crittenden County has represented the county’s foster care children in a number of capacities, giving the children representation within the courts system. That mission has now expanded to include more children in the Arkansas Delta region. In October 2015, CASA of Crittenden County, a program of Mid-South Health Systems, Inc., solidified an agreement with the Arkansas State CASA Association to expand their coverage area to include Lee, Phillips and St. Francis counties. This is the second expansion the program has had within the last year, with the first expansion incorporating Cross County, creating a five-county network. “We are honored and have accepted the challenge of growing our program and providing CASA Volunteer Advocates for the children in foster care in those areas,” said Cassie Rutledge, program director for the newly renamed CASA of the Arkansas Delta. “Our expansion means that children who haven’t had a voice in the court process will now be heard and someone will be advocating for their best interests in the courtroom.” The programs in the new counties will operate the same way they have operated in Crittenden County. CASA has been very successful in Crittenden County with volunteer recruitment. Currently, the program has 53 trained and sworn volunteers advocating for 121 children. Since the program began in 2007, the total number of volunteers trained and sworn is over 125 providing advocacy for an estimated 500 children. “We still have a long way to go with recruitment in Cross, Lee, Phillips and St. Francis Counties,” said Rutledge. “Our goal is to provide a volunteer advocate for every child in the foster care system by the year 2020.” The expansion, she explained, was out of necessity. “With our growth, we saw the need for change. Our Advisory Board members, Staff and Administration of Mid-South Health Systems collectively decided our program name should adequately reflect the areas we serve. Going forward, our program name is going to be CASA of the Arkansas Delta,” said Rutledge. The Mission of CASA of the Arkansas Delta will stay the same, which is to “provide abused, neglected, and dependent children a voice in the court process and advocate for their best interests through the use of trained volunteers.” CASA of the Arkansas Delta is currently recruiting members of the community to serve as members of Advisory Committees in Cross, St. Francis, Lee and Phillips Counties. Each committee will select one member that will serve on the CASA of the Arkansas Delta Advisory Board. Current members of the CASA of the Arkansas Delta Advisory Board are: John Roberts, Nancy Hogan, Kim Felker, Debbie Holmes, Helen King, Lisa Wilson, Scottie Lackland, Cham Percer, Jerry Burns, Joanie Taylor, and Marvin Steele, who is also the Chairman of the Mid-South Health Systems Governing Board and serves as the liaison between the two boards. Ed Barnes is the current CASA Volunteer Representative serving on the board. While the need for new volunteers continues in Crittenden County, there is an urgent need to recruit individuals in the new counties. All interested individuals must complete an application and interview, provide personal references and pass criminal background and child abuse registry checks. “Once the screening process is complete, they must complete 30 hours of pre-service training and three hours of courtroom observation prior to being sworn in by the Juvenile Court Judge, Honorable Ann Hudson or Honorable Ralph Wilson, presiding in their area,” Rutledge explained. “Training is provided in both a class room setting and independent on-line study which can be completed at the volunteer’s own pace.” Anyone interested in more information on becoming a member of the Advisory Committee in Cross, Lee, Phillips or St. Francis County, please contact Cassie Rutledge, CASA of the Arkansas Delta Program Director at 870-702-5921. Anyone interested in becoming a CASA Volunteer in Crittenden County, contact Jeannetta Gilliam, Program Coordinator for Crittenden County at 870-702-5921. Individuals interested in volunteering in Cross and St. Francis Counties should contact Marva Pry-Riley, Program Coordinator for Cross and St. Francis Counties at 870-630-3880. Those interested in volunteering in Lee or Phillips Counties should contact Pearl Walton, Volunteer Coordinator at 870-338-8815. Anyone seeking more information about CASA, is instructed to please contact Alex Coulter at 870-702-5921, or inqire via e-mail at crutledg@mshs.org.

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