(Portage) A program in Columbia County that pairs adult advocates with children making their way through the court system is in need of more volunteers. It is called the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, or CASA. Darryl Teske, CASA’s executive director, says volunteers meet with a child who – through no fault of their own – find themselves in the court system for things like abuse and neglect. While not legal experts, advocates both explain to the child what is going on with the court process and listen to and respond to their needs.
As of December 31, Columbia County had 35 CHIP petitions, which stands for Children In Need of Protection and/or Services, and translates to around six children-per-ten-thousand residents. By contrast, Dane County has five CASA children per-ten-thousand. There is no CASA program in Dodge County yet, though the ultimate goal of the statewide program is to offer CASA in every county in Wisconsin. Some state’s offer the CASA program statewide through their respective Children and Family Services agency. In Wisconsin, there are 12 counties with CASA programs. Columbia County had a program in place with Sauk County from 1996 through 2013 that was revived in June of 2016 and now serves Columbia County.
Advocate Nancy Osterhaus of Columbus volunteered during both incarnations and has served as the voice of eight different children over the years. Osterhaus told us on WBEV’s Community Comment that CASA is the best volunteer work she has ever done. She says the children are scared to death after being ripped away from their family and they just need somebody to hear their story, talk to them and be there for them.
Volunteers must pass a background check, be at least 21-years-old and take a 30-hour training program. The advocate would then agree to meet for one hour a week with a child along with any needed interactions with social workers, teachers or guidance counselors. Teske says the non-profit is hosting a Volunteer Fair at the Columbus Library Thursday from 6:30pm to 8:30pm with a presentation at 7:15pm.
Contact information is available at:
Darryl Teske can be reached at 608-745-9977 or [email protected]ntycasa.org