Court Appointed Special Advocates of Douglas County recently received a $2,500 grant from Pacific Power Foundation to train new advocates.
These additional advocates will help to serve more children in foster care as the numbers continue to increase. As of Tuesday, there are 603 children in foster care in Douglas County due to allegations of abuse and/or neglect from their parents, according to CASA.
Katherine Elisar, program director for CASA of Douglas County, said 56 percent of these children are still waiting for a trained volunteer to advocate for their best interests.
The Douglas County program currently has 70 Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, who volunteer to be legally assigned to a child in foster care.
“A CASA visits the child at least once a month to talk with everyone involved in that child’s life, including the foster parents, biological parents and teachers,” Elisar said. She said the advocates spend time with the children and support them in their activities, like going to a ballgame to watch them play.
“Our role is to figure out what is going to be in the best interest of the child,” Elisar said.
The advocates try to identify the children’s needs, whether medical, dental, educational or otherwise, and they present a report to a judge every six months.
“It’s a very rewarding role, it’s just amazing and we get to see families who change, or if not, it’s amazing to see adoptions take place with clapping in the courtroom,” Elisar said. “And we clap when parents have turned their lives around and changed and the child gets to go home with a parent.”
So far this year, 85 children in the foster care system in Douglas County have returned to parents or found a permanent placement.
CASA of Douglas County will host a training class this summer for new advocates, and Elisar said she’s hoping to get at least 20 more advocates by the fall.
CASA also offers ongoing training and support for advocates as they continue to serve the children, and it trains experienced advocates to become mentors for newer ones. Elisar said the CASAs area all community members who wanted to volunteer, including some who work in human services or have a background in education, and others who are plumbers or truck drivers.
According to CASA, the number of children in the foster care system in the county has increased by 248 percent since 2013.
Elisar said there are many theories about why the number is surging, and in many cases it’s due to substance abuse.
“We try to provide a solution,” Elisar said. “A citizen can get involved in the process in a safe way to be able to take care of our most vulnerable, our children, so thank you to Pacific Power for being part of that solution.”
Sam Carter, regional business manager of Pacific Power, awarded the grant to CASA representatives April 16.
As the philanthropic arm of the power company, the foundation issues grants to nonprofits in different categories each quarter, including education; civic community; culture and art; and health, welfare and social, which CASA falls under. CASA applied for the grant to help fund its training of peer advocates and coordinators, and the foundation decided to award the grant.
Carter said the foundation recognizes that the Douglas County area has many kids in the foster care system and is struggling to meet their needs.
“(CASA) is something we felt was important to support and try to help expand their program because there’s a great need for it,” Carter said.
Carter said he encourages other nonprofits to apply for grants as well, and more information can be found on the Pacific Power website.
Elisar said CASA of Douglas County plans to have a booth at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market this Saturday as well as June 9 to provide more information to potential new advocates.