FARMINGTON — The San Juan Court Appointed Special Advocate program is recruiting adult volunteers who want to help abused and neglected children.

CASA volunteers advocate for children in the court system and work to ensure child has a safe and permanent home.

Volunteers attend a week-long evening training session, and then a judge assigns them to represent a child who is in the court system because of abuse or neglect.

Volunteers act as liaisons between the child, family, social workers and court staff. They also serve as a voice for the child so important information about the child is relayed to the people making decisions about the child's welfare.

The program asks for a one-year commitment, and average volunteer time is between eight and 10 hours a month. The volunteer appears in court for review hearings and conducts follow-up contacts with his or her assigned child. Volunteers must be at least 21 years old.

"We're currently able to advocate for 88 percent of the children in foster care in San Juan County," said CASA program director Amy O'Neill. "Because some people leave the program after finishing their commitment or move away, we always need more volunteers."

O'Neill said the information CASA volunteers provide to judges about a child is valuable.

"The judge really listens to the CASA volunteer's reports, reads the reports to the court and tries to address the volunteer's concerns," she said.

O'Neill said CASA is always interested in recruiting more Native American and particularly more male volunteers to work with children in the court system.

"There often aren't enough good role models in a child's life, so it's always very helpful to have male volunteers," she said.

Brenda Gable, who has been a CASA volunteer for three years, currently manages three cases. One of her cases consists of four children going through the court system.

Gable, a 65-year-old retired missionary worker, said being a CASA volunteer is both challenging and rewarding.

"We're a voice for the kids who can't speak in court because they're too young," she said. "Our observations are valuable to the judges, because we're able to see all aspects of the kid's life, including home, family and school."

The challenging part comes in, she said, when frustration builds because of the slowness of the court system in resolving cases.

"We wish we could speed up the process, but we have to be patient with the system," she said.

The work can also take an emotional toll, Gable said, especially when a child is placed with a stranger, instead of with a family member, while he or she waits for the court case to play out.

"We are people who just want to give back and to touch a child's life," she said.

VOLUNTEER

What: Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteer program

When: The next training begins Oct. 21. Pre-training processing is required.

Where: 807 W. Apache St., Farmington

More info: Call Amy O'Neill at 505-592-0168 or Alysha Shipley at 505-592-0167, or email volunteersup@childhavennm.org.

Leigh Black Irvin covers health and science for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and lirvin@daily-times.com Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.