Jershaun Roberts, left, and Holli Reksten are the entire paid staff of Dougherty CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA is hosting an orientation to recruit advocate volunteers for the organization. Advocates represent child victims of child abuse or neglect in juvenile court situations.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Dougherty CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, is "desperate" for volunteer advocates to help child victims of family abuse or neglect -- especially men, according to Holli Reksten, CASA communications coordinator and advocate.
"We have 93 children in need right now," Reksten said, "or about 48 family cases, with only 27 advocates to take care of them. Only four of that number are men."
Reksten said that federal law requires that Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or CASA be appointed in all cases of child abuse or neglect.
To help build the number of advocates needed, Reksten and Jershaun Roberts, the only two paid staff members of Doughety CASA, are inviting those interested in the advocate position to attend a special orientation at their offices at the Lily Pad building, 320 West 2nd Avenue. There, from 6 - 8 p.m. Thursday, participants will learn about the five-week course to prepare volunteers for assisting affected children, Reksten said.
According to Reksten, applicants must be at least 21-years-old and pass a no-cost criminal background check. All training will be provided at no cost to the volunteers.
Reksten said the training will consist of two nights each week of the five-week course. Volunteers will make visits to juvenile court and have the opportunity to learn from attorneys and judges the nature of responsibility. At the end of the training period, new advocates will be sworn in by a judge.
Advocates will have basic working knowledge of juvenile court procedures, Reksten said, and be able to work well with foster parents, biological parents, judges, attorneys of both the children and parents and, of course, the children themselves, Reksten said.
"Advocates follow every step of the court cases, which may last 12 to 15 months," Reksten said, "We try to make sure everything goes smoothly for the children."
Reksten said the low turnout of men for volunteer positions is unfortunate and that she hopes more will apply this time around.
"It can be so important to have that male influence," Reksten said. "Especially in this community."
CASA works closely with DFCS (Georgia Family and Children Services)," Reksten said, catching some of the things that might "fall through the cracks." Reksten says volunteers work toward "appropriate" resolution of the unfortunate family situations, whether family members ultimately reunite or find other solutions.
"Oftentimes the child will have such a love for his biological parents and his image of the way things were, we just have to step back and keep our personal bias out of it," Reksten said.
For additional information, call CASA at (229) 435-0074.