Giving a voice to those in need
Voices for Children has been helping families for 27 years
Voices for Children has been easing the process of families making their way through Lorain County Domestic Relations Court for 27 years.
According to Director Tim Green, the program was started in 1990 as part of the nationwide Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children organization, or CASA. He said there are CASA affiliated program in counties across the country.
He said his group gets involved with cases after Children Services have approached the court with cases of alleged abuse, neglect or dependency of children. They deal with about 400 children a year.
“Now the children are involved with the court system, through no fault of their own; they’re the victims here,” he said. “When that happens, by law (the court) has to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent that child’s best interest. That’s how we come into play.
“As Voices For Children, we recruit, we train and we work directly with volunteers in their role as guardian ad litem and we call the CASAGALs,” he continued.
According to Green, the court can also appoint an attorney to act as a guardian ad litem and an attorney who is appointed can be paid for it by the court, but the volunteers who work with the Voices for Children program are not.
Each CASAGAL is assigned to a case and acts as, what Green described as the “eyes and ears of the court.”
“The court’s expectations of CASAGALs is that they will come back to bring information to the court,” he said. “Our CASAGALs go
out and meet the children in their homes, and whoever they’re with, we want to go into their homes. We want to understand their environment, their culture, their needs and what’s happening in their lives.
“Our volunteers will review records from Children Services,” he continued. “If they’re in school we’re able to go to their school and review their educational records. If they have any medical or mental health records we review those. We collaborate with other agencies mainly children’s services because every case that we’re involved with, there’s a case worker from children’s services because it’s their case.”
According to Green, the volunteers will also speak to extended family members, foster parents, doctors, pediatricians, nurses and anyone else who is connected to the child’s life.
“We’re focusing on the children now and their needs and what’s in their best interest,” he said. “If a child is old enough to articulate their wishes and desires we will ask them directly, ‘what would you like to see happen?’”
The children Voices for Children represents are not in the courtroom while the judge or magistrate makes their determinations, so it falls to the volunteers to properly represent what they want, according to Green.
“We’re giving the court a vision of what’s happening in the life of this child,” he said.
Once the volunteer gives their report based on their findings, they are then tasked with following up with the case by visiting the child at least once a month and establishing relationships with their parents, according to Green.
“We’re not parent advocates but we do get to know the moms and dads,” he said.
According to Green, most volunteers only take one case at a time. This gives them the chance to really get to know the case and the child. He said that one volunteer has gone above and beyond that usual commitment.
Claude Thompson, 76, of western Cuyahoga County, is retired from the flooring business. He has been volunteering with the program since 2008 and in that time has handled the cases of 172 children.
He said he got involved with the program after he was told about it by one of his stockbrokers who was on its board of directors.
After looking into a board position, he chose to instead become a CASAGAL and one of the most prolific of them, he said.
“We don’t have enough volunteers for the amount of children who need them,” he said. “Having gone through what these children are going through, having gone through it as a young boy and my younger brother going through it, I just felt there was a need and I had the time; so, why not?”
According to Thompson, the reward he gets from the children that he helps is “absolutely remarkable.”
“One of my first cases was a young lady who was 16 years old when I got the case and had been raped by her father almost every day for two years,” he said. “She would have trauma, and go into periods of shakes and uncontrollable tremors, and would have to be hospitalized.
“Her caregivers, after they got to know me, would call and say, ‘we took, let’s say Suzie, to the hospital,’ ” he continued. “So, I’d drive out to Elyria to the hospital and sit with her.”
Thompson said one time when this happened he was sitting with the girl holding her hand at about 6 a.m. and the girl woke up.
“She looked at me and she squeezed my hand and she said, ‘Claude, I knew you’d be here,’” Thompson said.
The girl ended up being an honor student at Elyria High School, eventually aged out of the system and now has a child of her own, Thompson said.
“Every child that I advocate for gets my card with my cellphone number on it, and they always know that they can call me,” he said.
Voices for Children holds two training courses a year for their volunteers. Those interested in becoming a volunteer can contact their main office on the second floor of the Lorain County Justice Center, 225 Court St. in Elyria, at 440-329-5158, or visit their website at www.vfclc.org.