By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The opiate epidemic has reached down into the youngest and most helpless members of Wood County. Just as Wood County Children’s Services is seeing more child abuse and neglect cases, the Wood County CASA program is seeing those growing numbers stretch their volunteers.
The numbers have increased so much that some families are being turned away, according to Kathy Hicks, a volunteer member of the Friends of CASA Board.
Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers who advocate for the needs of children, and act as the voices of children in court, Hicks said.
“So the court knows how the child feels,” she explained. “Kids don’t want to tattle on mom or dad.”
The CASAs make home visits, speak in court on behalf of the children, and contact doctors, schools or other agencies to try to determine what is in the best interest of the children.
The Wood County CASA program, with director Carol Fox, currently has 32 volunteer CASAs who are serving 45 families with a total of 90 children. The growing number of cases has led to about 10 families being turned away so far this year.
Much of the increase is due to the opiate epidemic, Hicks said.
“It is just amazing to me how many families have this drug problem. It prohibits them from taking care of their children,” she said. “That’s really sad.”
The issues are often further complicated by multi-generational opiate problems.
“It’s not just the parents. It’s the grandparents,” Hicks said. “Grandma and Grandpa can’t step in because they aren’t clean either.”
So the children are often placed with foster families.
In order to get more CASA volunteers so more children can be served, a “Coffee with CASAs” event is being held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Grounds for Thought in Bowling Green. Anyone who stops and chats with the CASA volunteers will be given a wooden nickel for a free cup of coffee from Grounds.
“We want to get these families the help they need,” Hicks said.
Volunteers CASAs will be on hand to explain what it takes to do the job. Volunteers must go through a training program, must pass a screening process, and must have “the desire to help people,” she said.
Efforts have been made to streamline the training and volunteers are now allowed to work as a team.
“They are in so much need,” Hicks said.
Hicks, who previously worked as a CASA volunteer, said the work is difficult but worthwhile. “You can leave with the sense that you’ve helped a family, or put them on the right track,” she said. “It is very rewarding.”
“Unfortunately, there’s just not enough to go around anymore,” she said of the volunteers.
Anyone interested in the CASA program who cannot attend the Saturday event may call the CASA office out at the county juvenile court at 419-352-3554.