Volunteers needed to help abused and neglected children

A Gratiot County social services organization seeks volunteers to help guide neglected, abused or abandoned children through the probate court system.

The need is great, as just 42 percent of the 64 children in Gratiot County’s probate system now have volunteer counselors from Court Appointed Special Advocates (or CASA).

CASA volunteers visit with their assigned children every 7-10 days and work with attorneys, social workers, school personnel, health care providers, parents and any other parties that are involved with the child. From the information gathered, the volunteer will make recommendations to the judge as to what is in the best interest of the child. The term best interest is defined as a safe and permanent home as quickly as possible. Volunteers allow the child to explain his or her own feelings, hopes and opinions. These wishes are also expressed to the court.

“It can be emotionally trying, but it’s definitely rewarding,” said CASA Recruitment Coordinator Danielle Schmidtman, characterizing the payoff as a “paycheck of the heart.”

CASA advocates

Gratiot County Probate Judge Kristin Bakker poses with the three newest CASA volunteers, (from left) Fawn Thompson, Nancy Duffus and Pepper Near, along with CASA Program Director Michelle Zombeck and Recruitment Coordinator Danielle Schmidtman. Thompson, Duffus and Near were sworn in as CASA volunteers on June 12.

Volunteers get 30 hours of training before taking on their first case. The next training period begins in the fall.

Once trained, a volunteer is ready to take her first case. And, yes, all of CASA’s volunteers in Gratiot County are women (but men are welcome).

Although cases are assigned to volunteers, Schmidtman said volunteers “get a little bit of a choice in the matter as to which case they take.”

Volunteers get together once a month in a support group format to discuss their cases and help each other. “The cases that seem the hardest we try to tackle,” Schmidtman said.

Overall, the time commitment averages out to ten hours per month, Schmidtman said. Volunteers are asked to commit to 18 months of service or through the end of their case, whichever comes first.

Volunteers are assigned one case at a time. But a single case could include two or more children.

Volunteers must be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver’s license and no history of abuse or neglect. Background checks are conducted.

Gratiot County Probate Judge Kristin Bakker works closely with CASA and had this to say. “The service CASA volunteers provide to children who are the subject of child protection matters is unique and valuable. As the presiding judge in protective proceedings, I appreciate the commitment of these dedicated and tireless volunteers and the contribution they make to these cases. It would be wonderful to expand the list of trained special advocates so every child who could benefit from a CASA could have one.”

Interested people are invited to attend an information session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 20, in room 119 of the Wilcox Nonprofit Center, 525 N. State St. in Alma.

To reserve a spot, send an email to Danielle Schmidtman at danielle@linkforfamilies.org, or call 989-463-1422.


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