Giving A Voice to the Voiceless
The Honorable Peggy Walker, Douglas County Juvenile Court, NCJFCJ Past President
Katy Hilbert, Executive Director, Children’s Voice: CASA
The Juvenile Court of Douglas County has a strong child representation model that includes Children’s Voice: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which is our local CASA affiliate. Children’s Voice is a member in good standing with Georgia CASA and National CASA Association. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) has a long history of support and collaborative work with National CASA and its affiliates. Children’s Voice, Georgia CASA, and National CASA Association are vital partners in assuring safety, permanency and well being of our children in foster care.
Children’s Voice recruits, trains, and supervises effective advocates for our children. Some of our volunteers have backgrounds in the fields of medicine, education, and finance. Their advocacy for medically fragile children and children with educational challenges has assured that our children have what they need. For CASA volunteers without a professional background in education, Children’s Voice provides surrogate parent training for educational advocacy. Additionally, Children’s Voice has staff trained to address financial literacy of our children who are working toward independent living. Children’s Voice staff are also trained to teach Stewards of Children for prevention of sexual abuse of children, Strengthening Families Georgia to build resilience in families, Fostering Futures to support our children in independent living, Better Brains for Babies to assure that infants and toddlers have what they need, and Understanding Child Welfare to assure that those who touch the lives of our foster children are trauma informed and trauma responsive.
Our CASA volunteers are often people of influence in our community. When they see needs and gaps, they reach out to other people and organizations to bridge the gaps. Some examples include providing backpacks with school supplies, suitcases, and personal hygiene items for our children; prom attire and tickets for our youth; and utilization of technology to forge a closer relationship between children and their CASA volunteers. With leadership from Children’s Voice, a second center was founded for visitation, community trainings, food distribution, and nutrition classes.
One of most exciting ventures for Children’s Voice is a new effort to support Fostering Connections’ goals of normalcy in assisting our youth in obtaining a driver’s license, car insurance, and a vehicle. Georgia has limited public transit. Lack of transportation is a barrier for our youth who are moving toward independent living. The goal is to establish a local program that will serve as a state and perhaps even a national model.
The NCJFCJ’s Enhanced Resource Guidelines, the national blueprint for training on child abuse and neglect cases, encourages juvenile and family courts to take active steps to ensure access to competent representation for the parties in child abuse and neglect cases. CASA volunteers are valuable as guardians ad litem for foster children providing first-hand knowledge of the day to day experiences of the children we serve. CASA volunteers make effective recommendations to the court on behalf of the best interests of children in foster care. Having a voice in court enhances resiliency in children and leads to better outcomes for them. Support your local affiliate as a partner in improving the legal system and in building resiliency in children and families.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.