The Portage Youth Court welcomes new lawyers
For Janene Jones, the decision to become a volunteer advocate for children involved in child abuse and neglect was very personal.
Jones said she was drawn to Portage County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) because she wished someone could have helped her and her sister when they were growing up in a violent situation.
When she heard about the program from her husband, she immediately joined.
“My sister and I, when we were younger, we used to say that we will always grow up and do something to help children,” she said.
Jones described the feeling of now being able to defend someone whose childhood circumstances might mirror his own as invaluable.
CASA expanded its volunteer ranks this week, bringing the county-wide total to 28.
Jones, along with fellow volunteers June Futia and Jennifer Gregory, were sworn in Monday in Portage County Juvenile Court. Juvenile Judge Patricia Smith administered the oath.
A fourth CASA initial training graduate, Patricia Morgan, will be sworn in on Wednesday.
They are now responsible for advocating for children caught up in the county court system.
After:Volunteers stand up for children caught up in the justice system in Portage
After:Portage County Juvenile Court Program Helping Youth at Risk for Substance Abuse
Gregory said she was drawn to the idea of volunteering with CASA out of a desire to advocate for the best interests of children.
“A lot of times when you’re a kid, you don’t have a voice,” Gregory said. “I have always tried to be the voice of children.”
Before being sworn in, potential volunteers must complete 30 hours of initial training, during which they learn how to use information about a child’s situation to determine the best course of action for the minor they represent.
“That includes reviewing school records. I could be counseling and treatment records, medical records. We also review parents’ backgrounds, their records,” said Ann Walden, executive director of Portage County CASA. .
Futia said the continuing education was a rewarding experience.
“It was very eye-opening in terms of the case studies we did as well as general information on what to expect,” she said.
In some cases, she says, children who have a bad home life will still resist separation from their parents.
The ceremony was attended by the volunteer’s family members and State Representative Gail Pavliga, who worked alongside Smith to set up and operate the CASA program in Portage County.
After being sworn in, volunteers are required to complete 12 hours of annual continuing education.
Since the first volunteers joined the program in March, CASA of Portage County has been able to help 32 minors navigate the justice system.
“I can’t tell you how much CASA volunteers helped us make appropriate decisions,” Smith said. “We really appreciate you volunteering to do this and going through all the training.”
The agency always needs volunteers. According to Smith, juvenile court sees an average of three new cases a week.
“We have over 300 addiction, neglect and abuse cases before this court, and each one has at least one child,” she said.
Anyone over the age of 21 can begin the process to become a volunteer by contacting General Manager Walden at [email protected] or 330-298-3910.
Contact journalist Derek Kreider at [email protected]