CASA looks for advocates for children

Interested volunteers must attend training on Wednesday

Hannah Grover
San Juan Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers in the fall 2015 graduating class stand for a photo.

FARMINGTON — The San Juan Court Appointed Special Advocate program needs volunteers to advocate for children in foster care.

CASA volunteers spend eight to 10 hours each month working on behalf of children or sibling groups who are involved in civil abuse or neglect cases. Volunteers meet with the children and evaluate their progress. Based on those encounters, as well as meetings with relatives, foster parents and teachers, volunteers write reports to a judge.

"They paint a picture of what's going on in the child's life," said Amy O'Neill, the CASA program director.

O'Neill said the goal of the program is to help children find permanent homes — either with their parents or through adoption or permanent guardianship.

Currently, CASA has 44 volunteers who serve 111 children.

"We are able to advocate for 82 percent of the children in foster care in the county," O'Neill said. "We would like to advocate for 100 percent."

Volunteers need to be 21 years old and must submit an application and attend training at 6 p.m. Wednesday at San Juan United Way, 903 W. Apache St. in Farmington. Applications are available by calling CASA at 505-325-5358.

Volunteer Beckie Adams said the biggest challenge she faces is learning about the abuse or neglect that led to a child's placement in foster care.

San Juan Court Appointed Special Advocates Ginger Sanders, left, and Derek Sanders, right, are pictured in this undated courtesy photo with Judge Sandra Price, center, after being sworn in as CASA volunteers.

Adams said she started volunteering after reading about the program in the newspaper and hearing about it from a friend who volunteered. She has been a volunteer for about a year and currently has two cases.

"If you have a heart for speaking for children, then I would definitely look into it," Adams said.

The desire to volunteer with children led Helena Begay to begin volunteering three years ago. In that time, one of the cases she worked on resulted in the child being adopted by relatives. She said she is still working on the first case she was assigned.

While Begay enjoys working with children, she said advocating for them is a unique experience.

"I was so surprised that I was not aware that there was a need for this," she said.

Begay said volunteering is rewarding, especially when a child finds a permanent home.

"You see the children on a monthly basis and you get to know the children and you see them grow," she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.