Cass County CASA celebrates Child Abuse Prevention Month, National Volunteer Month

CASSOPOLIS — April is typically a big month for events for Cass County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. However, with COVID-19 restrictions in place, things have looked different this year.

CASA is a nonprofit organization separate from the court system. Cass County CASA was founded in 1995 by Chief Judge Susan Dobrich, with the first volunteers trained in 1997. Volunteers are trained extensively to work with local children in the foster care system. As advocates, volunteers work with children assigned to them by the court, learning about their circumstances and helping them to find a foster family or become reunified with their biological parents. In addition to serving as a voice and an advocate, CASA volunteers often serve as mentors and friends to their children.

“Our volunteers are that extra support for the child,” said Executive Director of Cass County CASA Erica Boulanger. “We like to say they are the one constant.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shake in how CASA operates in general and also how it is spending the month of April, which is typically spent raising awareness about child abuse prevention and celebrating its volunteers, as Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Volunteer Month are hosted in April.

“At first, we were a little panicked, just like everyone else, because in order to get to know a child’s needs and to build that relationship, face-to-face contact is very meaningful,” Boulanger said of learning about the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order.

Despite the challenges, Boulanger said Cass County CASA and its volunteers have adapted to the changes. CASA is now sending handwritten cards and letters to the children it works with in addition to working with them over phone, text and video to meet the child’s needs.

“We decided we still needed to be there for these kids,” Boulanger said. “Things may look a little different, but I can 100 percent confidently say that I feel their needs are being met, and they are still getting their advocacy needs met.”

In addition to finding new ways to advocate for the children they work with, CASA staff and volunteers have been finding new ways to celebrate the month of April. Boulanger said CASA is posting more on its social media pages to raise awareness of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“We have been a lot more active on Facebook,” she said.

Boulanger said CASA is also working on setting up a Zoom video conference celebration of its volunteers, who are typically honored in person during April.

“We like to take April to really thank and praise our volunteers,” she said. “We just know that their work is so valuable and important. It really does make a difference.”

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, Boulanger said she and others involved in CASA remain committed to providing services to the children of Cass County.

“Our motto is ‘change a child’s story,’ and we have really embraced that,” Boulanger said. “We really believe that this work can change the ending of a child’s story and change their life.”

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