Oxford local Erin Smith has been working diligently to form Lafayette County’s first CASA chapter. This will be the first chapter in Northern Mississippi.
“CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate,” explains Smith. “We advocate for abused and neglected children with the courts. We are appointed by judges in the youth courts, and we stay with children until they are in a safe and permanent home.”
Smith previously worked with CASA in Memphis, where she served as a CASA. Although this is a major time commitment, CASAs provide children with a person who will be consistently in their lives during a time that is very scary for all involved.
The goal of CASA is to break the cycle of abuse. Although this is a tough situation, the CASA advocates for the child to be in the best living situation to fit his or her needs, whether this is reuniting with their family or placing them in foster care.
Ole Miss student Mary Claire McGraw and her family have experienced the adoption process firsthand. “Another person in our family had a baby, and there was just a bunch of different factors that she was ill-equipped to be a mother,” said McGraw. “So the little boy, Brayden, was placed into foster care when he was three days old.”
McGraw believes having a CASA could have greatly benefitted her family. “It really would have made a world of difference,” said McGraw. “There was one day when we went to court, and were supposed to get custody on that day. We had just received a new social worker, and she was uninformed of our case. She was unable to request to the judge that we get custody.”
“If there was a CASA, they would have been able to update the court and update the social worker. We had at least six or more social workers over the course of a year. If we had a CASA who was here continuously and was the permanent person in the process it would have been so much easier,” explains McGraw.
Training to be a CASA takes over 30 hours of training. This time dedication might not be for everyone. Smith wants everyone to know there are other ways to get involved.
“We have events that people can be involved in,” said Smith. “There are community functions they can help speak at. They can educate the community on what CASA is. We are involved in a lot of other events. They can come volunteer there. They can come help with office stuff, admin work and stuff such as that. So, there are a lot of other ways that you can get involved besides being a trained advocate.”
CASA heavily relies on volunteers to help with their organization. Donations are very important. It costs roughly $1,000 to train a CASA and an additional $1,000 to provide a CASA to a child.
Through the community’s dedication, the first class for CASA in Oxford will host 10 to 15 trained volunteers with seven people serving on the board. It is a requirement for board members to go through training to be a CASA. This is important so that they know the process and are able to answer any and all questions to those involved. Also, this makes them eligible to be a CASA for a child if needed.
For more information on Lafayette County’s CASA chapter, please visit www.casaoflafayettecounty.com.