MESA COUNTY, Colo.- - Court Appointed Special Advocates of Mesa County, also known as CASA, has been operating in the Grand Valley since 1997 with volunteers who advocate on behalf of children involved in cases going through the Judicial system.
"We are a program that utilizes community citizens just like you and me, to be the voice for children who are parties for dependency and neglect cases in our community" said Joy Thompson, the program director for CASA.
Dependency and neglect cases include children who have fallen victim to neglect, domestic violence, drug use, and physical or sexual abuse, with the number of offenses increasing year after year.
In 2015 there were 96 active cases that involved 192 children, with this number not counting the 34 cases that were wait listed.
During 2016 this number grew to 120 cases that affected 227 children, with 46 cases waiting to be seen, and as of April of 2017, 252 children represented 197 open cases.
As the volume of cases involving children continues to grow here on the Western Slope, the amount of CASA volunteers needed is also rising.
"Their fate is being decided in their absence and it's important to have a trained person whose there to be the eyes and ears for the court, and then come back and be the child's voice" said District Attorney Dan Rubinstein
When a dependency and neglect case is opened, a volunteer is assigned to meet with the child or children involved on a monthly basis, and gather facts about the victims life.
They speak with teachers, therapists, doctors, or anyone associated with the child, and then report back their findings to the ruling magistrate who then decides whose custody the child belongs in.
While volunteering for the organization may be a tasking job for some, Dr. Craig Spoering said it's an experience that's worth it. "It's a unique opportunity to be able to learn and participate in a child's life, and in their outcome hoping to be able to enhance that to be much more favorable."
If you would like to act as a child's voice in court, click the link below for more information.