Program seeks more volunteers to be child advocates in court

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 26, 2014 

Mark and Peggy Hevland were looking for a way to give back to the community after they retired from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

They found one in the Benton Franklin CASA-GAL program, in which specially-trained volunteers act as advocates in the dependency court system for young children who've been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.

"These are children who need someone to be their voice," Peggy Hevland said.

And more voices are needed.

The CASA-GAL program (CASA stands for court-appointed special advocate and GAL for guardian ad litem) has a caseload of about 220 children, with just shy of 80 active volunteers and a few paid staff. A volunteer training is planned starting this week; sessions are from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7 and Feb. 22.

"They need good, caring people to take on this challenge. I think anyone who sticks with it -- it makes you feel really good," Peggy Hevland said.

"It enriches our lives," Mark Hevland added.

The couple from Kennewick became part of the program last year, and each handle two to three cases at any one time. CASA volunteers get to know the children they're assigned to and their situations -- investigating, monitoring, advocating and making recommendations.

They determine how many cases they want to take on, typically devoting 10 to 12 hours a month per case, said Tikva Glantz, a case manager for the CASA-GAL program.

The local volunteers come from many different backgrounds and places in their lives -- from young working moms to retired grandfathers

Volunteers must be at least 21, and they must undergo a background check and complete training. The work is meaningful, local volunteers said, noting the CASA advocate is there specifically to help the child.

"The parents have a lawyer, people are involved with the family. They all certainly have their eye on the child. But with CASA, that is our main and only focus -- what is in the best interest of this child?" said Maureen Bloomberg of Pasco, who like the Hevlands is a program volunteer.

She's retired from the education field and became trained about four years ago.

"There is a huge need. If all someone did was take one case, that child or those children would be better for it. You know how it is that when you give, you get back," Bloomberg said.

"That is the case with this volunteer work.".

To get an application, call Glantz at 222-2302 or e-mail her at Tikva.Glantz@co.benton.wa.us.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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