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CASA Volunteers Swear to Advocate for Lafayette Children

By Alyssa Schnugg
News Editor
alyssa.schnugg@hottytoddy.com

CASA volunteers were sworn in Tuesday at the Lafayette County Chancery Building. From left, Carey Neal, Erin Smith, Terry Alves-Hunter and Emily Mitchell. Photo by Alyssa Schnugg.

Four local women were sworn in Tuesday by Youth Court Judge David Bell to be the voices for Lafayette County children who have been removed from their homes due to neglect and abuse.

The newly established Lafayette County Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, will work with local judges, the Department of Human Services, the Guardian Ad Litem program and other organizations in order to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.

CASA workers are volunteers and their roles are to gather information and make recommendations to the judge in the best interest of the child.

CASA is a national organization, however, there was no chapter in Lafayette County until Erin Smith decided to create one.

“I had volunteered for CASA when I was an undergraduate,” said Smith, who is the only local staff member. “When I decided to get back into it about five years ago, there was no local CASA organization so I volunteered for the Memphis CASA for about four years before deciding to start one here.”

Smith said her goal is to expand CASA into other counties in Mississippi. There are currently only seven CASA organizations around the state.

The volunteers will be assigned to one child at a time in order to focus on the specific child’s needs. There are currently 26 children in foster care in Lafayette County.

Along with Smith, the other volunteers sworn in by Bell were Carey Neal, Terry Alves-Hunter and Emily Mitchell.

“When a child is put in foster care, we want to make sure we understand every aspect of their lives,” Mitchell said. “We go to on doctor’s appointments, meet with people involved in the child’s life and have one-on-one time with the child to make sure we get the whole picture to make the best decisions for that child.”

Alves-Hunter has adopted and fostered children herself and understands how the foster system works, and where it’s lacking.

“CASA helped me in Boston when I adopted my son,” she said. “I’ve seen what the foster system is like and I want to help the children in the foster system.”

Neal is a former employee of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and wants to use her experience from there, and from her personal life, to help Lafayette’s foster children.

“I’ve had my own experiences as a child with relatives where no one spoke up for them and I just felt like I needed to do that,” she said.

Volunteers undergo 30 hours of training, background checks, reference checks and must complete 12 hours of continuing education each year.

For more information about CASA or how to become a volunteer, visit www.casaoflafayettecounty.com or email lafayettecountycasa@gmail.com.


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