For abused and neglected kids, they’re advocates, champions and friends

In Oklahoma, CASA for Kids volunteers provide guidance and stability in the midst of the trauma

They’ve been removed from a setting of abuse or neglect, they’ve been placed in a foster home, and their next stop is juvenile deprived court.

For kids like these, the world is a big, scary place—and what they need most, says Ruth Cavins, is “a true friend.”

More than 40 years ago, the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) system was established in Seattle, with volunteer citizens advocating for abused and neglected children in the court system.

Today, there are nearly 1,000 such chapters across the United States. For kids living in foster care, the CASA volunteer is an investigator, an interviewer, a reporter, a champion—and, importantly, a friend.

“Our CASA volunteers meet with their kiddos at least once a month. They can take them to the park or a movie, watch their dance recitals or their baseball game. The CASA volunteers are very involved in their kiddos’ lives. It’s much like Big Brothers Big Sisters in that regard,” says Cavins, executive director of CASA for Kids, Inc., which serves Payne and Logan counties in Oklahoma.

“Our volunteers are there to understand what their wishes are, make sure their needs are being met, and help them understand what’s happening,” adds Cavins. “It’s very traumatic for a child to be removed from their home, and then be placed in a foster home. That’s hard to understand when you’re four years old.”

Specially trained CASA volunteers, sworn in by a juvenile court judge, generally work on only one case at a time, and advocate for their child by:

  • Conducting an independent investigation, which may involve a review of legal, medical or police records;
  • Interviewing the child, parents, and professionals to best gauge the child’s needs; and
  • Making recommendations to a judge on next steps.

CASA for Kids’ perennial goal for these children is reunification—and while that doesn’t always happen, kids with CASA volunteers are half as likely to languish in foster care, and that much more likely to find a safe, permanent home.

“The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is truly providing what these parents need to improve their own lives. People who commit to it have significant change in their lives. I’ve seen it work,” says Cavins.

“I’ve also seen situations where their parental rights have to be terminated, and the kids are then adopted and go off to live with a new family—and that’s a happy story, too.”

Enbridge is committed to strengthening the social fabric in communities where we operate. In 2017, we invested nearly $68,000 in initiatives across Oklahoma focused on health and safety, community, and environment, and our recent donation of $2,500 to CASA for Kids will help pay for the organization’s new case supervisor and volunteer training coordinator.

“The beauty of a CASA volunteer position is that anybody can do it. You don’t need any certain kind of education, background or life experience,” says Cavins. “Our volunteers are so diverse, with different cultures, ethnicities and socio-economic levels, and they’re all making an impact on their cases.”