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CASA program takes root in juvenile court here

By Kay S. Pedrotti Children in the juvenile court system will have a new voice in their favor, the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. Towaliga Accountability Court judge and former sheriff Larry Waller is coordinating the new program. ’A CASA is a trained community volunteer, appointed by a judge, to advocate for the best interests of an abused or neglected child involved in juvenile court deprivation proceedings. We have two volunteers already signed up, Harold Jackson and Mary Ann Leverett. They’re both well-qualified and eager to help Lamar County children,’ said Waller. CASA volunteers work one-on-one and take one case at a time on the assignment of juvenile court Judge Sharon Sullivan, said Waller. The volunteer program is designed to work closely with the Department of Family and Children’s Services, he added. ’DFCS is ready to have our help and to help guide the volunteers because we’ll have that many more eyes on the children and their welfare.’ Duties of a CASA volunteer include visiting the child, explaining the CASA role, keeping the child informed of all aspects of court proceedings, gathering information about the child to make best-interest recommendations to the judge, cooperating toward solutions with other participants in the child’s case, preparing written reports for the court, identifying community resources for the child, keeping all records and information confidential and maintaining focus on the child until permanency is achieved. Waller commented, ‘CASA volunteers will help change a child’s life for a brighter future, helping end the cycle of abuse and neglect. The program will help the county save a lot of money. The commissioners believe in the program and have given $10,000 for the first six months to get us started, along with $5,000 from Georgia CASA. We will be seeking grants and other funding sources also, along with donations from community groups and individuals.’ CASA volunteers must be 21 years old and pass a criminal background check. Other qualifications include good verbal and written communication skills, ability to be objective and non-judgmental, be available to attend all court hearings and commitment to the program for at least a year or preferably until the case is resolved. Forty hours of training are required after acceptance of the application. For more information call Waller at 770-468-8426 or 770-358-5029. Applications are available at the accountability court offices on the corner of Library and Greenwood Streets where the tag of­fice was.

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