Bookmark and Share


When she was hired for the challenge, she immediately started the program with two volunteers who were previously traveling to Sioux Falls regularly to take part in their CASA program. Six months later, they held their first volunteer training session. While Rodgers-Conti handles the program’s resources and funding, contact with sponsors and the record keeping and documentation required to manage the program, Case Manager Crystal Gemar works directly with the volunteers: recruiting, training and supervising them. Though Rodgers-Conti’s direct role in doing what’s best for children has changed slightly, her overall focus of helping children has always stayed the same. “That’s just been a nice transition for me to still have that satisfying feeling that what I am doing is all for the benefit of the kids,” she reflects. “We’ve had fantastic people in every community step up to be CASA volunteers. Of course, if you don’t have good CASA volunteers, you don’t have a good program. That’s been amazing to me, the people that will step up, because they’re such great people.” She explains their role in child safety is because there is a situation where the judge needs to know what is really happening with a family. The information that the CASA volunteers present is about what is best for the child. They are included in the circle of knowledge about the court case and are considered a voice of the children. A volunteer is assigned based on a good match to the child, taking into consideration the child’s age, medical or educational needs, cultural background and gender. The specific volunteer is included in a court order that gives them authority to talk with everyone in the case and attend court hearings. The volunteer will spend an average of 8-10 hours a month visiting with the children, parents, foster parents and the assigned Social Services case worker. The volunteer also has permission to discuss pertinent matters with the child’s teacher or counselor or possibly the parent’s employer. The volunteer would speak to these parties to assure that statements made by the parent are accurate, or to verify that court ordered requirements are being followed. Typically, each CASA volunteer has one case at a time, with the average process taking about a year. Occasionally a CASA volunteer may have more than one case at a time or a case may take longer than the average. “This is how we can really speak for this child, because it’s not good for that child to have the court think that the parent is doing so well when it really hasn’t changed anything,” Rodgers-Conti explains. One of the myths of CASA is that their role is to assure that the kids don’t go back to the parent, which is not true. To the contrary, she explains that they consider it a huge success if they can verify that the parent is making progress and continues to make progress, enough for the child to safely be returned to the home. She estimates that in 80% of the cases, the child can safely return home. Rodgers-Conti explains that many families are in crisis because of drug or substance abuse, though some cases involve physical abuse and sexual abuse. At this point, the situation cannot be remedied with the parent any longer. “The majority of the cases we have are severe neglect and cases with children ages five and under. So, when you put those things together, you can see why it’s very dire.” The volunteers chosen to assist with these children must take part in 30 hours of training, led by Case Manager Gemar. Volunteers are trained on child welfare, family dynamics, cultural backgrounds, how to report to the court and what the court needs to know. They thoroughly understand their job after completing the training. They have 21 volunteers and are in the process of training another group. “We’ve been really fortunate, where, we started just in Yankton, and as we’ve had new cases come up we’ve always had a new group of people trained. We have from day one met 100% of the need. I am so proud of that,” she smiles. It takes a dedicated person to volunteer for this role. Not only are vFAMILIES continued on page 26 Slumberland is where the midwest shops for Tempur-Pedic! The Best Nights Sleep ~ For Every Body! 2401 Broadway, Yankton • 605-665-3719 • slumberland.com Monday-Friday 10am-8pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday Noon-6pm HERVOICEvMARCH/APRIL 2018v17

© Copyright 2015 Her Voice Online