On November 14, 2023, Judge Tina Boyd presided over the swearing-in ceremony for nine new child advocates. CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, is a program that trains volunteers to work with abused and neglected children. Their task is to listen, learn, and report back to the court what is in the best interest of keeping them safe and nurtured. They serve a vital function in Berks Family Court.
CASA volunteers serve as an extension of the eyes and ears of the judge in dependency court cases. Volunteers undergo more than 30 hours of training that includes observing dependency court hearings. After being sworn in, a judge appoints a CASA to advocate for the child’s best interests.
“Making a difference in the life of a child is my primary reason for becoming a CASA,” said Lynn Spatz one of the nine new advocates. “As a parent watching cases unfold, I often asked if there was someone who could advocate for the interests of the child…Finding out about CASA was an AH-HA! Moment which more people need to discover.”
Connie Cammarano, with nine years as an elementary classroom teacher and sixteen years as a school counselor added, “I feel being a CASA volunteer will allow me to have a more in-depth connection to a child in foster care and I may even be able to have a more positive effect on their well-being than I could as a counselor.”
The nine volunteer advocates come from a variety of backgrounds ranging from school nurse Lisa Kepner, small business owner Heather Everson, community organizer Tanya Melendez, to Kelly Wolfe, a mother of eight children, including five through adoption.
Three more, Marcy Demagone with a master’s in school psychology, Jennier Dougherty school counselor, and Marcia Baer a speech and language pathologist have experience collaborating with school systems and will bring that expertise to the foster children assigned to them.
Why do all these accomplished women want to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate? The answer is best summed up by Marcia Baer who said, “I am aware that not all children are as blessed as others. I want every child to feel valued and safe with the confidence to want the best for themselves.”
“I have so much respect for the CASA approach.” Said Judge Art Grim (retired) who serves on the CASA Board of Directors. He went on to say, “With 30 years as a Judge, I’ve always been concerned about abuse, both on an adult and child level. I spent my days in Juvenile Court. So many of the young people I saw came from abusive families. That is what drives me to support what CASA does.”
There are over four hundred children in Berks County who are in foster care. They all could use a child advocate. Those interested in becoming a volunteer child advocate must submit clearances and references and attend an 8- week training course. The next class begins on February 29, 2024. Interested in learning more? Do not hesitate to contact Christa Yeager by email: firstname.lastname@example.org