Learning that more than four hundred children in Cherokee County are in foster care tends to make many residents’ jaws hit the floor. For those who have never experienced events that lead to foster care, the realization that so many young people right here at home are in the care of foster placements can feel surprising. 

Once people realize the significance of so many children separated from their families, they often want to know how they can help. Enter CASA Cherokee. The thirty-year-old flagship program of local nonprofit The Children’s Haven, CASA Cherokee extensively trains Court Appointed Special Advocate [CASA] volunteers to be a voice for children in foster care.

Community members from all walks of life serve as CASAs. In 2023 alone, 167 deeply committed Cherokee CASA volunteers advocated for nearly 357 children in Georgia state’s legal custody, providing each child with impartial advocacy that nurtures hope, seeks solutions, and stands in the gap between a challenging present and a promising future. 

After training, CASAs are appointed by the juvenile court judge to improve a child’s experience in foster care by providing individualized attention, bringing urgency to children’s needs throughout their time in state custody, and offering consistency and continuity by working to connect information among case managers, foster parents, attorneys, and many other stakeholders. CASAs are often the one consistent adult in a child’s life as their case works to an end.

When Canton resident Jennifer Puckett—owner of Therabeat Music Therapy, co-owner of In Harmony Pediatric Therapy, and mother of three—heard the testimonies of current CASAs at a Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce event, she was compelled to action. “Anything you’ve done with kids, including parenting your own, equips you for this volunteer job,” Jennifer says adamantly. “You can do this with a family; you can do this if you work full time. If you feel led to be a voice, you are qualified. There’s so much flexibility in helping these children.”

“I would tell people not to feel intimidated simply because the courts are involved,” Jennifer continues. “Being willing to fight for a child who is experiencing really awful circumstances—separation from their family—and digging down deep on their behalf makes serving as a CASA super meaningful.”

Jennifer and Brian Puckett for CASA Cherokee

CASA Jennifer Puckett and her husband, Coach Brian Puckett, discussed the great need in Cherokee County for CASA volunteers before Jennifer enrolled in training classes. (Photo Courtesy of the Puckett family)

Jennifer, who is currently volunteering for a ten-year-old, completed her forty hours of CASA training earlier this spring. She says repeating the thought, “What if people did not serve in this capacity?” keeps her motivated. 

“When the child I work with needed new cleats, I was able to find funds through a program his school counselor shared with me. His joy at trying them on and experiencing normalcy was awesome. Recently, in court, he just kept waving at me. He knows I’m his safe person.”

For retired English to Speakers of Other Languages [ESOL] teacher Polly Yaguchi, serving as a CASA was a natural next step when she sought to continue working with children and serving the local community. Now in her third year with the CASA program, Polly says the experience has been the most rewarding she has ever had.

Polly Yaguchi for CASA Cherokee

Canton resident Polly Yaguchi says she has gained valuable perspective through serving as a CASA volunteer for three years. (Photo Courtesy of The Children’s Haven/CASA Cherokee)

“I believe the kids have likely made even more of a difference in my life than I have in theirs,” Polly says. “I’ve learned so much from them: compassion and appreciation. I’ve gained new perspectives and certainly discovered how great the need is in our community.” 

Applications are now being accepted for CASA Cherokee’s next training session. Classes will be held August 13 through September 12, 2024, Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. To apply online, visit CherokeeChildrensHaven.org.

CASA Cherokee by the numbers 2023

CASA Cherokee, 2023, By the Numbers

How to Serve

Interested in becoming a CASA? Here are the requirements to serve: 

  • Age twenty-one and older,
  • Clear background check,
  • Ability to visit a child in person at least once a month,
  • Ability to attend court proceedings every three to six months, 
  • Ability to attend 40 hours of training classes over six weeks.

Why CASA?

A child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to: 

  • Find a safe, permanent home,
  • Experience fewer foster placements, 
  • Spend less time in long-term foster care,
  • Receive needed healthcare and educational support, 
  • Succeed in school,
  • Participate in extracurricular and social activities and
  • Avoid re-entry into foster care.

Conversations with CASA

Presented by The Children’s Haven, drop in at these upcoming community events to learn more about how you can advocate for children in foster care. Visit Barrel House Coffee Company in Ball Ground on Monday, July 8, from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. or Thursday, July 25, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., or visit Bizarre Coffee in Woodstock on Wednesday, July 17, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

About CASA

CASA is a program of The Children’s Haven. The Children’s Haven is located at 1083 Marietta Highway in Canton and is home to four programs focused on prevention and support services for at-risk families: Court Appointed Special Advocates [CASA], Wellstar Family Visitation Center, Prevent Child Abuse Cherokee In-Home Parenting Program, and Chin Up Mentorship Program. 

The mission at The Children’s Haven is to promote the health and happiness of children impacted by abuse and neglect. For more information, visit CherokeeChildrensHaven.org.

 

 

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