Giv­ing a voice to those in need

Voices for Chil­dren has been help­ing fam­i­lies for 27 years

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - FRONT PAGE - By Keith Reynolds

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.

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