- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (AP) - There was a time when Hancock County didn’t have a group that advocated for children in the foster-care.

The county’s Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a nonprofit organization that helps train volunteers to become court-appointed advocates for children, was re-established in 2009.

Executive director Cynthia Chauvin told The Sun Herald ((https://bit.ly/1D9EYUQ ) that the time when the county didn’t have the organization was solely because of a lack of funding.

The CASA program is judicially appointed. When a youth court judge rules a case needs a court-appointed advocate, Chauvin and her staff assign a volunteer to the child or family.

“Not everyone can be a CASA volunteer, not everyone can be a donor, not everyone can serve on the board of directors, but everyone here wants to do something,” Chauvin said.

The Hancock County CASA program has three staff members and an annual budget less than $200,000. Before coming to Bay St. Louis in December 2013, Chauvin was employed for 12 years at the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, CASA and had 12 employees and a budget of about $1 million.

CASA volunteers get 30 hours of training.

Hancock County CASA has 54 volunteers who are assigned to 120 children. Chauvin said CASA ambassadors are assigned to 31 percent of children in foster care. Of those children, 74 percent of the cases involve substance abuse by the parent or guardian. She said 76 percent of CASA’s cases are children younger than 12.

“They’re at a great risk,” she said. “I’m very alarmed by it.”

CASA volunteers regularly research and check on their assigned cases, she said. They see children two to three times a month, speak with teachers and therapists if applicable, and check school attendance and grades.

“Anybody connected with the child, the advocate interacts with on a monthly basis,” Chauvin said.

Involvement lasts until the child receives permanency. This happens when family issues have been resolved; the parents’ rights have been terminated and the child has been adopted; or custody is awarded to another adult, she said.

CASA is gearing up for its 4th Annual Krewe of CASA Mardi Gras Gala on Jan 17.

“Our theme this year is ‘Helping Children Navigate their Way,’” Chauvin said. “This is our largest fundraiser of the year and funds raised go to the recruitment, training and support of our CASA volunteers.”

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Information from: The Sun Herald, https://www.sunherald.com

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