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CASA Across the Commonwealth Virtual Town Hall Event

Story written by Nancy McCullar

CASA Across the Commonwealth Virtual Town Hall Event

Pennsylvania CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) announced a Virtual Town Hall Event titled CASA Across the Commonwealth. Organizers want to increase awareness of CASA volunteers’ advocacy work for abused and neglected children and draw attention to the number of children in the dependency system who could benefit from having a dedicated, trained volunteer, appointed by the Court, assigned to their case. They also hope that this virtual event will increase the number of citizens interested in volunteering to become advocates for children in the dependency system.

The hour-long event is scheduled for Friday, October 23, at 1 p.m. and is organized by the Pennsylvania CASA Association. Speakers include such distinguished participants, including Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Teresa Miller, elected officials, judges, and CASA volunteers. The event will stream simultaneously across three virtual platforms: PA CASA’s website, Facebook, and YouTube.

All are encouraged to register at: Those interested should register even if they cannot attend at the time of the live event. All registered participants will receive an email notifying them when the videos are available to watch after the premiere.

“The CASA volunteer brings consistency and constancy to a child experiencing unimaginable circumstances. CASA’s are everyday citizens appointed by the Court whose advocacy can offer each child an opportunity to thrive,” says Jennifer DeBalko, Executive Director of PA CASA.

The Pennsylvania CASA Association’s (PA CASA) mission is to grow, strengthen and unite CASA programs throughout the Commonwealth so that they can ensure the safety, well-being, and forever home for abused and neglected children in Pennsylvania.

Across Pennsylvania there are 21 local CASA programs serving children in 27 counties. These local programs have 1,169 CASA volunteers advocating for 2,129. Overall, 21,666 children in Pennsylvania are involved in the Dependency Court system, and eligible to be assigned a CASA volunteer. Once a CASA volunteer is trained, they are officially appointed by a Juvenile Court judge, authorizing them to become involved in the child’s case and gain access to their records. As the Juvenile Court’s eyes and ears for abused and neglected children, the volunteer advocates provide best interest advocacy until a child is placed in a safe, permanent home.

According to Nancy McCullar, Executive Director of CASA of Berks County, 38 volunteers are currently serving 61 children in the county’s dependency system. More than 600 such children are hoping for the help of a dedicated volunteer. “We encourage anyone interested in helping change the course of a young persons’ life to watch this Virtual Town Hall Meeting, and learn how they can genuinely make a lasting impact on the life of a child,” says Nancy McCullar.

CASA of Berks County, founded in 2015, is now in its fifth year of service. In the past five years Berks County CASA volunteers helped to change the story of 283 + children. Volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates are assigned to a child who was brought to dependency court due to abuse and/or neglect. The CASA Volunteer gives generously of their time to learn all about their assigned child, talk to teachers and therapists and doctors, visit their child twice a month and attend court. CASA advocates pledge their time to become the most consistent person in the child’s life. As one foster child said: “The days that I cried she was there on the other line telling me that things were going to be okay. She made me feel I was somebody every time I talked to her.”

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, when mandated reporters (counselors, teachers, doctors, etc.) are not able to observe children, reports of abuse and neglect declined at alarming levels. Nonetheless, during this critical time, CASA programs across the Commonwealth have continued to keep eyes on kids through windows, from driveways, and across fences. “With so many of our youth in long-distance learning environments, the ability of third-party observers (teachers, counselors, coaches) to identify neglect or abuse has been diminished, making the role of our CASA volunteers more vital,” says DeBalko.

The Pennsylvania Court Appointed Special Advocates Association (PA CASA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 and recognized by the National CASA Association (NCASA) as a member in good standing.