The Harrison County CASA Program  

Emma Delk, Staff Reporter

On Wednesday, September 22nd Fairmont State University held a Women and Gender Studies Colloquium, where Alisha Madia, Executive Director of the Harrison County Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA), spoke about CASA and how students can get involved with the program. CASA is a program in which a CASA volunteer is appointed by a local judge to represent the best interests of a child in the foster care system whose home placement is being determined. Madia shared about the program, “Our main goal is advocating for youth in foster care. We are a group of passionate people who know that we can’t change the world for everybody, but we can help at least one person.” Madia not only described the process of becoming and being a CASA volunteer but also told heartwarming stories about her own experiences being a CASA volunteer.  

Even though the foster care system allows a child a safe space away from the harmful environment they were in before, being within the foster care system can still be very draining for a child. Most children within the system experience strong feelings of helplessness or fear due to the loss of a caretaker or family of origin. Along with not having emotional stability, children often also do not have physical stability, as a child is moved three times on average while in the foster care system. Madia describes the struggles of these children aptly, “Imagine if you were picked up from everything you know right now, all your family and school connections and placed in a family with a new school, new teachers, new foods, cultures, etc. Your whole life is gone. Imagine how confusing that would be as an adult, let alone a child, not knowing why this is happening.” 

This is where CASA volunteers come in to provide some stability for these children, as they often are the one constant person in a child’s life as they are moved through the foster care system. CASA volunteers gain a rapport with a child by being a steady presence in their life. They advocate for the child in and outside of court as it is decided where the child should be placed, whether it be in a new home or back with their original family. They also help children understand why they are within the foster care system. CASA volunteers make sure the child knows it is not their fault they are in foster care, explaining to the child why they are within the foster care system in terms the child can understand.  

A CASA volunteer has to be 21 years old to apply for the program. Before being allowed into the program, the applicant is interviewed to evaluate if they can work with children, families, and people from a variety of different backgrounds. Once accepted, they then have to undergo 30 hours of pre-service training before being sworn into the program. When one first joins the program, they have to commit one year of service. During this service, one remains on the case of a child until the child achieves permanency. On average, a volunteer spends 10 hours a month working on a case, and a CASA volunteer can only take on one case at a time.  

One of the biggest commitments to consider when entering the program is the time commitment it entails. Madia says that one of the most common statements they hear for why someone cannot enter the program is, “I don’t have enough time for that.” However, the help and stability one can provide a child as a CASA volunteer make the time spent working on a case worth it. The CASA volunteers can have a great impact on the life of a child. Madia shared how she spent 8 years on a single child’s case, and at the end of it all, the child told her, “I’ve known you longer than anyone else in my life.” 

Even if one is not old enough or cannot commit enough time to the program, which is often the case for college students, they can still become involved with the CASA program and the foster care system. Madia shared the other ways students can help, such as donating supplies to a foster closet, setting up a drive at a school to collect materials for foster students, and also sharing information to raise awareness of the CASA program and the needs of children in foster care.  

To finish her talk, Madia shared one of the ways she was able to make a lasting impact on the lives of children through her work in the CASA program. When a 13-year-old child she was working with told her that they had just received their first birthday present when a teacher gave them a book, Madia wanted to make sure that no child in the system could say they had never gotten a birthday gift. She started a birthday program that collects toys year-round to give to children within the foster care system. Madia shared, “Don’t ever underestimate what you’re doing if you are making an impact.”