CASA of Fayette County Program Director Mitch Samick stands in his Uniontown office with the Fayette County magisterial district court map (Uniontown Herald-Standard photo)
By Alyssa Choiniere
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Fayette County opened its doors in May to support children who are in the court system due to abuse or neglect.
CASAs are assigned to one case at a time, serving one child or sibling group, said Program Director Mitch Samick, who transferred from the national organization’s Westmoreland County branch.
Having the same advocate assigned to a case helps provide the child with much needed consistency, Samick said.
“Once they’re assigned to a case they can stay with it,” Samick said. “It’s a very rewarding experience. They’re with it until the end, so they’re able to see that happy ending.”
A CASA meets with a child monthly and attends court hearings for the child’s case. They work with a child’s parents, guardians, foster parents, case worker, service providers, teachers and anyone else involved with the child’s case.
“The advocate really becomes a part of that child’s team,” he said.
The CASA’s meetings are meant to assess whether the child’s needs are being met, and whether they are in a safe and nurturing environment, he said.
CASAs are volunteers, and Samick said no experience is necessary to become an advocate for a child. Volunteers must go through a background check and attend trainings that include topics such as child development, mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence. At the completion of training, CASAs are sworn in by Fayette County Judge Linda Cordaro, who presides over family court cases.
The CASA is then assigned to one case that they will oversee until the case reaches permanency.
Samick noted that throughout the country the child welfare system is overburdened, and that case workers are often assigned many cases, often reaching burnout. CASAs are able to focus on one case only and provide a familiar presence for the child, he said, and work together with case workers and others involved in the child’s case.
“Collaboration – that’s really how we work. It’s a collaborative effort,” he said.
He said Fayette County Children & Youth Services and others involved with child advocacy in Fayette County were thrilled about CASA opening its doors at the Uniontown office.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better reception from CYS and from the courts,” he said.
CASA of Fayette County had three volunteers complete training so far, and he said in November a second training session was ongoing.
“Ideally, we would like to have an advocate for each child that came into the court system,” he said. “That’s our long-term goal.”
He said his short-term goal is to have 18 CASAs by the end of 2022.
Samick said he is looking for additional volunteers, and noted that volunteers can assist the program without becoming a CASA. He said they are also looking for board members, donors, sponsors and help with fundraisers.
“People can help us in a lot of different ways,” he said.
CASA of Fayette County operates through state and federal grant programs and through donations and fundraisers, Samick said. They held a 5K in October as a fundraiser and to raise awareness for the local program, he said.
“We were really excited about the support we received,” he said.
Alyssa Choiniere is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard. Helping the Helpers is a cooperative effort between the Pennsylvania Capital-Star and the Uniontown Herald-Standard.
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