After a long effort to bring in Case Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to serve Pike County, about 20 volunteers have applied to become advocates.
Judge Kelly Gaughan recognized the need for the program. As a judge, she was concerned that she wasn’t getting enough information to make the right decisions regarding children.
The volunteer program gives children an advocate, she said, with each having only one case. The program also gives foster families a voice and helps paid caseworkers who are working multiple cases at one time.
“The special advocate will only have one child or one family at a time,” Gaughan said at the Feb. 16 Pike County Commissioners meeting. “They are volunteering to do this because they care about kids. They’re not doing it for a paycheck or for any other reason.”
She said colleagues in other counties that have CASA have asked her how she does her job without it.
“These are people who, from their hearts, want to help kids in our system,” Gaughan said.
Dawn Allison, director of CASA of Pike County, said the program has gotten an amazing response just through word of mouth. She said she has spoken to at least 20 people who are committed to start.
Steve Gill, program specialist of the Eastern Region, Pa., CASA, said the application process includes a completed application before the interview. Volunteers must provide three non-relative references. After the in-person interview, there will be pre-service training and background checks.
The training is designed by the National CASA organization. It includes recorder training, and culminates in a swearing-in ceremony in court. Gaughan said the court already has a date in April set aside for the swearing-in. The organization is currently conducting interviews.
Expectations for volunteers
Gill said for the first few months, volunteers can expect to put in about 10 to 15 hours, with fewer hours required later. They’re expected to be in contact with the children and families they’re assigned to about once a month, but Gill said twice a month is even better.
Commissioners director Matt Osterberg said this is another tool to help children and the courts. The effort to bring CASA to Pike County started with recently retired commissioner Steve Guccini and started before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.
“We’re pleased this is all off the ground now,” Commissioner Ronald Schmalzle said. “Bringing a new service and a new initiative to the county takes leadership, and that leadership was Judge Gaughan. She just exudes that passion for helping the children in the county.”
Gaughan said it couldn’t be done without support from the commissioners.
“These are people who, from their hearts, want to help kids in our system.” Judge Kelly Gaughan