Circuit Court Judge R. Steven Redding swears in Sharon Price, Kirsten Owens, Jean Hamilton & Sarah Piper as advocates for CASA of the Eastern Panhandle (CASA-EP).
“You are extraordinary people” was the phrase Circuit Judge R. Steven Redding used to welcome the four volunteers standing in his courtroom on November 16 ready to be sworn in as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). West Virginia’s Department of Health & Human Resources oversees the Child Welfare Services functions that provide the basic investigation, administration, and oversight of children in need of foster care and other services related to abuse and neglect. The CASA volunteers act in conjunction with the state’s caseworkers to help the judges make decisions and to help the children receive appropriate services. As Michelle Sudduth, Executive Director for CASA of the Eastern Panhandle (CASA-EP) puts it, CASA volunteers are “the voice of the child in the courtroom.”
Judge Redding pointed out the yeoman’s service provided by the two state caseworkers currently assigned to Berkeley County, but noted that there should be a dozen or more to handle the number of children in need of services. “They are working an unfathomable amount of hours — two cannot do the work of ten. The CASA volunteers are how I can sleep at night, knowing that someone is watching out for these kids.”
Michelle Sudduth shared some numbers that highlight the need for volunteer advocates: 800 children are currently in youth/foster care in Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties, 453 new cases of abuse/neglect were filed in 2021, and 351 new cases filed in 2022 (the current year number is lower not because of a decrease in need, but because of a backlog in DHHR’s investigations). CASA is currently able to provide advocates for 350 of those children — so there’s a great need and a great opportunity for volunteers to have an outsized impact on a child’s life.
Visit MyCASAEP.org to learn how you can get involved or make a donation.
If Not Me, Who?
Read what CASA volunteers say about their service:
Jimmy Oates (Martinsburg, WV) — When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, U.S. government analyst Jimmy Oates found himself with flexible work hours that allowed him to pursue a volunteer opportunity he’d been interested in for 20 years—becoming a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for CASA-EP. The Martinsburg, WV, resident had considered waiting until retirement, but when he realized he could balance his role as a CASA with his work and family obligations, he told himself, “You need to do this now…kids need help now.” [READ MORE]
Shirley Stanton (Shepherdstown, WV) — When Shirley Stanton moved to Shepherdstown, WV, she asked the realtor about local volunteer opportunities. The realtor mentioned that she knew court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers…. Stanton acknowledged that although some days are tough, she always finds something to keep her going, such as working with the guardian ad litem (GAL) or caseworker assigned to the case. “You find other people on the case who surround the kid with positive, loving energy,” she said. [READ MORE]By Staff Contributor