Henrico County CASA suffering critical volunteer shortage

Taking Action

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Henrico County court system is experiencing a shortage of volunteers who work with abused or neglected children.

Court Appointed Special Advocates, also known as CASA is a private, non-profit organization that has worked closely with the Henrico court for 25 years.

Currently, Henrico has more cases than volunteers.

“I wanted to be able to make a difference in a child’s life,” Denise Robinson, a Henrico CASA volunteer for two years said.

Robinson meets and speaks with children, visits their homes and reports back to the court.

“I always tell people I am kind of like the eyes and ears for the judge,” Robinson explained.

Robinson told 8News she finds her volunteer work very rewarding.

“One of my children, they wrote they knew they could trust me and they said I was funny and they appreciate what I did for them and that meant a lot,” Robinson said.

“Kids need a lot of our help and there’s not enough opportunity for social services to do all of this,” Jack Harsh a six-year CASA Volunteer said.

Harsh helps navigate abused or neglected children through the Henrico courts. He said he can have anywhere from one to two cases or as many as three cases at a time. The ages of the children range from infants to teenagers.

” There have been a wide variety of cases,” Harsh said. “Some have involved custody matters, mostly around allegations of abuse or neglect.”=

Last year, Henrico CASA had 111 volunteers who served 383 children. A 15 percent increase from the year before when Henrico CASA served 333 cases.

“We really need more volunteers to help with that need,” Henrico CASA Program Director Jeannine Panzera said, adding that it’s hard to pinpoint the reason for the spikes in cases but they see trends.

“Our cases, we are seeing a rise in poverty, a rise in substance abuse and mental health issues that plague the families,” Panzera said.

Robinson said an ideal candidate for CASA should be someone who loves children and wants the best for them.

“An individual who is willing to ask a lot of questions and build that relationship with the child,” Harsh added.

Those looking to volunteer do not have to be experts in the court system or family resources to do the job.

“Anyone can do it. We have a saying in the office from GED to PHD,” Panzara said.

All volunteers are trained and are provided with guidance.

“You don’t have to be afraid you’ll say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing, they will even go out on a visit with you,” Robinson said.

The next free, 14-session training program starts Sept. 7. The deadline to apply is Friday, Aug. 23.

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