Arizona’s Court Appointed Special Advocates program is celebrating 35 years of its volunteers representing foster children in court proceedings, giving their feelings and preferences a voice within complex court proceedings that determine their future.
CASA volunteers have helped more than 25,000 Arizona children determine their own future over the years by getting to know the kids, interviewing the adults involved in their cases and making recommendations on matters including custody and visitation.
Pima County started the nation’s second CASA program in 1979 (the oldest is in Seattle), and the statewide program launched in October 1985. In 1991 the Legislature authorized the state program to be funded through one-third of the proceeds from unclaimed winning lottery tickets over the course of a year, which enabled the program to expand to all 15 counties.
CASA of Arizona Program Manager Deirdre Calcoate said, “We have such dedicated volunteers who are changing the lives of children who have experienced abuse and/or neglect. This is not easy work, but we know it is important work.
“In a system that is so overwhelmed, our volunteers provide an extra set of eyes and ears for juvenile judges who make life-changing decisions for children in out of home care.”
Today, Arizona has 1,200 CASA advocates serving about one-fifth of all minors in the foster care system. Those kids are more likely to receive services, find a permanent home and not re-enter the system.
“We are always in need of more dedicated volunteers who have the passion to help children. We provide excellent training, mentoring and guiding the volunteer through the process,” said Donna McBride, Pinal County Juvenile Court Program Administrator and CASA Unit Supervisor.
Pinal County’s CASA program was launched in 1989 by Judge William “Bill” O’Neil, working with a team of court staff, a coordinator, a secretary and five enthusiastic volunteers. Over the first three decades nearly 400 volunteers donated more than 87,000 hours and $73,000 of their own money on behalf of children.
McBride said in the first nine months of 2020, Pinal CASA volunteers served a total of 150 children by donating 2,269 hours and traveling 20,696 miles to court appearances, visits, interviews and other destinations. The number of children countywide who have been removed from their home into dependent care is 1,140.
To learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer in Pinal County, call 520-866-7076, or visit www.CASAofPinalCounty.org.