More than 7,000 Ohio children who were abused or neglected last year received a second chance at life thanks to the staff and volunteers of Ohio CASA. And to say thanks, they were honored on April 30 for their desire to help these kids find safe and permanent homes during the third annual CASA Day in Ohio.
Ohio CASA is part of a national organization that supports court appointed special advocate and guardian ad litem volunteers who provide information to judges about what they believe is in the best interest of the child during court proceedings.
"The CASA volunteer will research everything about the child - school, friends, home - everything about the child, and then make recommendations to the court on what's the best way to make it through to adulthood," said Doug Stephens, executive director of Ohio CASA.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith L. French praised the volunteers' commitment to Ohio's youngest citizens and told them that as a mother and as a judge, she is heartened to know there is a devoted team willing to navigate the court system on behalf of children whose lives are thrown into turmoil.
"The CASA staff and volunteers throughout Ohio provide a much needed pair of outstretched hands these children so greatly need. The first of many hands they will grasp on their journey is to safe permanent homes with forever families. Yours are the hands that start the healing, and for that we thank you," Justice French said.
There are more than 2,000 court appointed special advocate and guardian ad litem volunteers in Ohio. The volunteers commit two to three years to the CASA program, an average amount of time it takes for a case to go through the court system. With more than 14,000 new cases of child abuse and neglect filed in Ohio's courts every year, Stephens said more volunteers are always needed.
"We were only able to reach 7,000 kids last year, and that's only about a third of the total kids in the state that need help," Stephens said.
There are 37 counties that have CASA/GAL programs throughout Ohio. At the beginning of April, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine allocated $2 million to the Ohio CASA/GAL Association to help expand the number of counties that offer court appointed special advocates. OHIO CASA works in partnership with the Ohio Supreme Court.