WATERTOWN — Dozens of children and families are served every year by the Resolution Center of Jefferson and Lewis Counties through its various programs. Volunteers put in countless hours to make it all possible.
The organization hopes to continue to grow its capacity to serve the community, but is in need of volunteers. All programs of the Resolution Center are volunteer-based.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Resolution Center has experienced a decline in volunteer retention that has hit all its programs, especially the Court Appointed Special Advocates, CASA, program, which has provided a voice for children who have experienced abuse or neglect in Jefferson County since 1986.
Natasha F. Delaney, program coordinator for CASA and family visitation program coordinator, said that before the pandemic, CASA was holding training classes two to three times a year, and from that would get five or six people signing up. Some people would always fall off, and CASA would typically end up with three or four volunteers. Now, with training done virtually, some people find it easier with work schedules, but since the pandemic, CASA has only had one to two trainees signed up throughout the year for training. Most often, they are not successfully completing the program, Ms. Delaney said.
CASA currently has eight volunteers and two staff members serving more than 60 children.
“In 2019, we had 29 volunteers, which is a high number for us,” she said. “I would say on average, we have around 15 volunteers at a time. So having eight right now is difficult.”
CASA advocates are appointed to abuse/neglect cases that are active in family court, and most often, these are the most difficult or complex cases. The advocates build relationships with the children and families to assist in the reunification process whenever possible. The rapport built with the children allows the advocates to report back to the judge on the child’s wishes for permanency and what is in their best interest. Children with CASA have been proven to receive expedited permanency and have their cases closed faster than children not part of the program. Advocates differ from caseworkers in that the advocates are typically assigned one case at a time so they can dedicate all of their time to that one family.
“As far as CASA goes, I would say the importance is huge, it saves the community a lot of tax dollars because these are volunteer advocates, they’re able to dedicate time to one specific family and work on the little things with them that caseworkers might not necessarily have the time to do,” Mrs. Delaney said. “Caseworkers are so overloaded right now and there’s so much change going on in the world that having a CASA advocate for the children just adds another level or layer of support for the families as a whole.”
CASA’s mission is simple: Using an advocacy model through specially-trained volunteers that create working partnerships with families, attorneys, and service providers, CASA speaks for children and helps facilitate collaborative solutions that promote timely resolution of child abuse and neglect matters. CASA assists children in achieving the best permanency outcome, whether that is reunification with their biological families or through adoption.
In 1991, the Jeff-Lewis Mediation Center Inc. was established to provide alternative dispute resolution services for Jefferson and Lewis County citizens through trained staff and volunteers. That year, CASA was placed under the nonprofit umbrella and in 1997, the agency began offering family court custody and visitation mediations and also launched the youth court program. In 2004, the agency changed its name to the Resolution Center of Jefferson and Lewis Counties.