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Court Volunteers Help Rescue Children in Abusive Situations

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Gary Askew, Art Thomas, and Shannon De Bra are some of the people who care enough to act. No hand-wringing over child abuse for them. As trained CASA volunteers they head for the front lines to find solutions for children caught in abusive homes.

CASA - the acronym for court appointed special advocate - consists of some 42,000 trained volunteers throughout the United States.

Working with attorneys, judges, and social workers, CASAs cut through bureaucracies and excuses. They endure frustrations, hours of waiting outside courtrooms, or visiting foster homes and blighted neighborhoods to see first-hand how children are living.

And remarkably in the end, sometimes after six to 18 months or more on a single case, when they have used their court-mandated authority to assemble the facts and gather opinions, they say the gain is far greater than what they gave.

"My life has been enriched," says Ms. Askew, a Harvard University administrator in Cambridge, Mass. who has worked on four cases. "I know a much wider range of people and behavior in an intimate kind of way," she says, "but I have met people who should not be on the same planet with kids. Overall I don't think about success, but what can I do to improve the chances for a child."

Watchdogs of child cases

CASA efforts are having a dramatic effect on an overworked juvenile-court system dealing with increasing numbers of complex children's cases. Unlike social workers or court appointed lawyers, CASA volunteers work only on one or two children's cases at a time. They are independent fact finders for judges, not mentors to children.

They function as watchdogs during a child's court case, carefully balancing their inevitable emotional connection with their mandate to work in "the best interests of the child." The CASA's final written recommendation is often the basis for the judge's decision in placing the child.

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