The Juvenile Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) the Arkansas State CASA Association are launching a major recruiting initiative intended to serve the children and families of three large, and mostly rural judicial districts in Northeast Arkansas.

The Administrative Office of the Courts is the recipient of a grant from the National CASA Association to fund an outreach and education program designed to recruit and train court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers in the 2nd, 3rd and 16th Judicial Districts. CASA volunteers are assigned by judges to monitor and act for the child, follow every avenue of the custody case investigation, interview all parties – family, attorneys, state family service workers, and mental and physical professionals and physicians. This report, with recommendations, then is provided to the judge and becomes the voice for the child at every hearing with the only goal being that of permanent placement, whether that is with rehabilitated parents or family or in a new, but safe and loving home. “Fewer than half of the children thrust into the state’s courts due to abuse or neglect are being supported through our existing CASA efforts,” said Mary Beth Luibel, Director of the Arkansas State CASA Association. “The specific area designated in this grant has even lower representation. We intend to address this through targeted and aggressive outreach in all of the communities, and with critical educational efforts regarding the complete mission that CASA volunteers take on. We want to share the very real challenges and the desired resulting peace and joys of the processes involved in order to acquire CASA volunteers that welcome both the work, and the payoffs, of protecting and advancing a child’s life.” The Arkansas public awareness and recruitment campaign, whose “I Am For The Child” materials were designed and provided by the National CASA Association, formally kicked off this month with the distribution and placement of multiple video and audio PSA TV and radio spots targeted to audiences in the three judicial districts. A grant-funded Outreach Specialist will also be securing regional audiences and appearances with civic, retirement, church, business, and other consolidated organizations, and with local individuals asking for additional information. As volunteers are interviewed and background checks completed, the state-run program continues by assisting the local CASA programs with facilitation and completion of the court mandated 30-hours of initial training. Once training is completed, the volunteers are sworn in, by each Circuit Court Juvenile Division Judge, as Court Appointed Special Advocates. Subsequently, the CASA volunteers will be assigned one to two cases by the court, as the CASA representative’s mission is to meet with and monitor the child’s care, and to appear and report at each court hearing, for each case, for each child, until a permanent and safe solution for the child is found and implemented. Because it is the only program of its kind, empowered directly by the courts to provide children with one-on-one advocacy,CASA has the ability to transform and assist well-meaning but often over-burdened system of child protection. CASA volunteers see their assigned children regularly and interview all the adults who impact their lives. Volunteer advocates offer judges the critical information they need to assure each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care. For many abused children, their volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.  For more information on this program and the CASA volunteer’s role, or if you have a business group, organization or civic club that would like to secure a speaker and learn more, please email or call the new CASA Outreach Specialist, Susie Cover, at 501.766.5218 or 870.919.7235.