Child advocates christen new downtown digs

It’s been 20 years since CASA started helping children in Mesa County.

The group, Court Appointed Special Advocates, is designed to make sure that children aren’t lost in the cracks of the state’s court system and left without a voice of their own.

Created by a judge in Seattle in 1977 and imported to Colorado a few years later, CASA is entirely volunteer driven, said Janet Rowland, executive director of CASA of Mesa County.

“We’re a child’s voice in court,” Rowland said Friday at an open house to celebrate the group’s 20th anniversary and show off its new digs inside the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce building, 360 Grand Ave, Suite 201.

“What happens is, when a child is placed in foster care for their own safety, it starts a court process that can last for a couple of years or more,” she said. “Sometimes the kid gets lost in that process without a voice.”

Currently, there are CASA programs operating in 17 of the state’s 22 judicial districts. 

The first CASA program started in Larimer County in 1984, growing to the Denver area not long afterwards. Mesa County’s program began in 1997, the same year the Colorado Legislature created the CASA program statewide.

In each, a volunteer monitors a single child and his or her family throughout whatever legal issues they face, including dealing with foster care. The advocate’s sole job is to make sure the children they are assigned get any and all services they need.

While every case is different, those cases can last up to two years.

Rowland said anyone can be a volunteer, and volunteers are always needed.

Currently, CASA’s next training session is full, with 20 new volunteers coming on board.

But while that’s good, it still isn’t enough. There’s a waiting list of about 35 cases, she said.

“We’re on track to serve about 300 children by the end of the year,” Rowland said. “To be a volunteer, you don’t have to have a background in social work or criminal justice.”

Volunteers who are at least 21 and pass criminal background checks go through 30 hours of training and 12 hours of annual re-training.

Rowland said while some volunteers are retirees, most are not.

“About two-thirds of our volunteers work,” she said. “So we really can work it in your schedule even if you work full time.”

To learn more about CASA or to become a volunteer, go to http://www.casamc.org.


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