On this first day of "Child Abuse Awareness Month," an Oklahoma County advocacy program is celebrating 20 years of providing volunteer advocates to speak to judges on behalf of metro children, to represent their best interest in court.
The Oklahoma County Court Appointed Special Advocates program will fete volunteers, board members and community supporters during a 7 p.m. banquet tonight at the Oklahoma History Center.
"We want this to be a celebration of the success that we've had," said Lynn Connell, Oklahoma County CASA executive director.
The county's first CASA volunteers completed training in March 1988. Since then, 766 have trained, serving 2,929 Oklahoma County children.
TASK AT HAND
Through their service, CASA volunteers interview and interact with children and those involved in their situation to make well-founded recommendations to Oklahoma County judges about where the children should live "? an effort to provide insight beyond what the resource- and time-constrained Department of Human Services may be able to offer.
"Everyone understands that there is abuse and neglect that happens, but they may not realize that in Oklahoma County alone, right now, we have four juvenile judges (who) are hearing over 3,000 cases," Connell said. "That's 3,000 families that are in the system each and every day."
Because of the large caseload and the typical number of CASA volunteers "? about 200 "? the county program can only serve about 8 percent of those cases at present. It is always in need of more volunteers willing to go through training and commit three to five hours a week, Connell said.
Oklahoma County CASA would like to gain more diversity in its volunteer base, to match the diverse backgrounds of children it serves, "so the volunteer can also appreciate and understand the family's culture and ethnicity," Connell said.
Adding more men to the ranks of volunteer advocates is another need.
"Sometimes these young boys "¦ have had no positive male figure in their life," Connell said. "It's so awesome when you see them be able to have that male volunteer work with them and show them there's a different way in life. You don't have to grow up and either be not there or in jail or doing things that are not appropriate, that you can be something better than that."
For more information, call Oklahoma County CASA at 713-6456 or visit their site.. "Emily Jerman