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New youth program coming to Lawrence County

A program to help abused and neglected children have a voice in the court system is expanding to Lawrence County.

The Ohio Valley Court Appointed Special Advocates Program, headed by Opal Spears, began in Scioto County and is expanding into Lawrence and Jackson counties. CASA is working with Lawrence County Juvenile Court Judge David Payne.

Scioto County received its grant in 2005 and in 2006 Spears graduated the first class of CASA volunteers.

“The CASA program works in the best interest of the child,” Spears said. “We talk to the children and ask them want they want.”

One example of CASA’s function can be explained by a girl who was placed in foster care because of her parent’s drug issues.

“It was difficult, she just did not have a stable environment,” Spears said. While Children’s’ Services was working on getting her back with her family, her CASA volunteer determined she needed a mentor. “She needed to see there was another way of life out there besides drugs and alcohol,” Spears said.

The girl was put into the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

“So we are a program that connects the dots,” Spears said. “And hopefully, it provides some stability, some changes in a child’s life.”

CASA volunteers perform five functions — they act as the child’s guardian, an advocate in court, a monitor who makes sure all services are provided to the child, reports facts to the court and as a fact finder to determine the relevant information for the child and the court.

Spears is looking for volunteers in Lawrence County and a place to train them. She said it takes about 38 hours to become trained in writing reports, how to get access to court records, interviewing a child and prep them on how to report to a court.

She said that CASA volunteers come from all walks of life.

“They are very diverse, some are retired people, some are housewives, some that have full-time jobs and still volunteer,” Spears said. She added that volunteers have to be over 21 years of age and pass a background check.

The first CASA program in Ohio was started in Toledo in 1980. Now there are 32 programs in 35 counties, but the association has a goal of having a program in all 88 Ohio counties. For more information about the CASA program, go to www.ohiovalleycasa.org to complete an application online or call (740) 354-1543.