Change ahead for CASA training

Lisa Thompson, Director of CASA of Warren and Forest Counties, and Cathy Anderson, CASA volunteer and board member, check out some of the changes in the new CASA training curriculum.

Changes are coming to the CASA preparatory training curriculum, and they’ve been two years in the making.

The 2017 curriculum is less about changing policy and protocol and more about revision in the light of new research and treatment standards, said CASA of Warren and Forest Counties Lisa Thompson. What CASA has been hearing from volunteers is that the training presentations were great for screening, both for volunteers to see if CASA was good fit for them and for CASA to make sure that volunteers would be good advocates for children. But volunteers were walking away feeling unprepared for what they were being asked to actually do.

The new curriculum, said Thompson, includes information on things like trauma-informed care, adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and how they are assessed, LGBTQ issues, educational advocacy, and other topics that will help advocates base their recommendations on what’s truly in the best interest of children being served. It is also, said Thompson, more interactive.

The revisions bring the training chapters from 10 to 8, according to National CASA literature, the training itself still takes approximately 30 hours. It focuses on core competencies while allowing for more and updated case studies to increase knowledge of incoming advocates. Additionally, the revised curriculum uses prework to get advocates prepared to take part in the experiential learning opportunities they’ll be exposed to during training sessions. And all of the revisions are with the goal of producing sworn-in volunteer advocates who are more knowledgeable and ready to implement they knowledge they’ve gained.

Being a CASA, said Cathy Anderson, who’s been both an advocate and a member of the CASA advisory board over the past nine years, is a unique opportunity to see your time and effort go toward a measurable outcome. Many times volunteers for agencies help to raise money for certain causes, but they never see what the money they raise or the time they spend specifically results in. For CASAs, she said, the reward is seeing a family progress and a child set new, healthy courses for their futures. “It really is a life-changing opportunity,” said Anderson. “I don’t know of any other volunteer opportunity where you have so much interaction and responsibility,” she said.

With a new training session coming up in January, said Thompson, she wants anyone who’s ever thought about becoming a CASA to know that “now is the time. We need volunteers,” she said. Over the years the number of people actively participating in the CASA program has ebbed and flowed. At times they’ve needed more board members. Right now, she said, it’s time to get more volunteers on board. “If someone were to call right now I can’t guarantee I’d have a CASA available,” she said. The average length of service for CASA of Warren and Forest Counties, said Thompson, is significantly higher than what national CASA reports, which is one out of every three people who volunteer in one year won’t volunteer again the following year. In Warren and Forest Counties, Thompson said, CASA volunteers stay an average of 44 months (3.6 years). Retention is so good for local CASAs, Thompson believes, because the work is so rewarding and the staff and board is respectful of their autonomy. Judges also put a lot of stock into CASA recommendations, said Thompson, and it’s rewarding to have an opportunity to have a direct impact on a child’s life.

For anyone who has expressed interest in becoming a CASA in Warren and Forest Counties before but was told that there were no trainings coming up, said Thompson, “now is the time.” Anyone interested in learning more about CASA or learning about the upcoming training should call Lisa Thompson at (814) 723-4434 or email casa@jdfamilycenter.org

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