APPOINTED COURT ADVOCATES IN WILLIAMSON EXPECTED TO SERVE 700 THIS YEAR
AMELIA FERREL KNISELY, NASHVILLE TENNESSEEAN
[PUBLISHED 6:00 A.M., JULY 27, 2018]
The number of abused and neglected children in Williamson County is on the rise.
That's according to Williamson County Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, an organization that works with hundreds of the county's vulnerable kids.
CASA's trained volunteers serve as advocates for children in cases where a judge will make decisions about the child's future. They are commonly utilized in abuse and neglect cases and are tasked with making researched recommendations in these cases after forming a relationship with the child.
The services, which cost $805 per child per year, are available free to the county through grants and donations.
Williamson County CASA recently acquired a grant due in large part to its creation of a test that measures the levels of trauma children are experiencing before and after their time with the program.
"We have developed a pre- and post-test children will take as they enter and exit CASA care," Susan Reinfeldt, director of development, said. "This data will allow us to measure if our CASA services mitigate some of the trauma children endure during their journey to a safe and permanent home."
The test was developed by Executive Director Marianne Schroer, who has more than 30 years of experience working in childhood trauma and mental health services.
"We've always used trauma-informed care in our approach to our children, but we never really measured how trauma decreases when they come into our care and when they leave us," Schroer said.
Williamson County CASA is currently the only organization in the country that utilizes the test as a therapeutic tool.
"Marianne has worked diligently over the years to ensure that our local CASA chapter employs cutting-edge tools designed to mitigate childhood stress and promote healing," Reinfeldt said.
Schroer said she will soon train local CASA volunteers to utilize the test in their cases; the test will later be made available to state and national CASA chapters.
According to Reinfeldt, the new grant will be used to provide advocates for 100 percent of the growing number of children referred to the organization and to hire additional staff. The grant will also be utilized to reduce the effects of child trauma through interventions and utilizing data on adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, along with data from their internally developed test.
ACEs can include experiences such as abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence and addiction, divorce and poverty.
Many CASA chapters around the country as well as other nonprofits use ACEs information to help guide treatment protocol, Reinfeldt explained.
Williamson County CASA also recently received a $37,794 grant from The Healing Trust.
Volunteers stand by children in trauma
CASA is a national organization with 1,000 programs in 49 states. The program was founded in 1977 by a Seattle juvenile court judge who believed impartial volunteers could be useful when making decisions involving abused or neglected children.
National CASA data shows that children who have intervention from a CASA volunteer have significantly reduced need for continued and future reactive services.
Volunteers, who are required to attend 33 hours of training, advocate in courts on behalf of children age zero to 17.
In 2017, volunteers with Williamson County CASA served 285 children under the age of six.
"There is often a misconception that affluent counties, such as Williamson County, are immune to cases of child abuse and neglect," Reinfeldt said.
Williamson cases encompass all socioeconomic levels, although court data shows 87 percent of the children served last year live at or below the federal poverty level.
"The most important thing residents can know about what we do is that while child abuse and neglect may be an issue we are not familiar with, it is an issue we can tackle," Reinfeldt said. "I encourage residents to consider joining CASA because these kids need our help."
Upcoming giving opportunities
Williamson County CASA has teamed up with Little Sprouts Upscale Consignment and Twice Daily to raffle off a 60-foot playhouse.
Raffle tickets, available Aug. 1, will be $20 and all proceeds will benefit Williamson County CASA.
The playhouse, built by Franklin Firefighters Charities and designed by Darla Spears, is valued at $6,000. It will be on display at Fire Station Station 3 in Cool Springs.
Tickets will be available online or by calling 615-591-2699, ext. 4.
Williamson County CASA also recently launched CASA Council for 21- to 40-year-old individuals interested in supporting the organization.
Council members are asked to contribute $50 per year and serve a two-year term.
For more information on the council, contact Reinfeldt at 615-591-2699, ext 2.
Reach Amelia Ferrell Knisely at firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-210-8286 or follow @ameliaknisely on Twitter.
Williamson County CASA is expected to serve more than 700 kids this year with 95 volunteers. The program served 517 kids in 2017.