A golf tournament Saturday will raise funds to support the mission of volunteers who stand up for abused and neglected children in foster care as well as the operation of two parental visitation centers in the four-county Ogeechee Judicial Circuit.
The nonprofit organization now named Child Advocacy Services of Southeast Georgia is still better known as CASA for its work with the volunteers, who are Court-Appointed Special Advocates. Shotgun-start tee time for the CASA benefit tournament on the Georgia Southern University Golf Course will be 1 p.m. Saturday, but registration opens at 10:30 a.m. Additional four-player teams will be welcome, organizers say, and lunch will be served at noon.
The entry fee is $100 per player.
About 45 Court-Appointed Special Advocates serve in the district. They are currently working with about 153 children in Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins and Screven counties.
"The children that we serve are the children in the foster care system, children who have been abused or neglected, and we work to try to keep them safe and achieve permanency, stability in a reasonable time and just do what's in the best interest of the child," said April Schueths, Ph.D., chair of the Child Advocacy Services of Southeast Georgia board.
Stability can come in the form of reunification with the birth parent, adoption or a permanency plan for a child to move beyond temporary foster care situations, she said.
CASA advocacy is a national program that started in the 1970s and has existed here since the early 2000s. The court-appointed advocates are completely unpaid, not even compensated for mileage, although those in the Ogeechee Circuit logged 9,200 miles and 820 hours service last year, Schueths said.
A special advocate must be at least 21 years old, pass a fingerprinted background check and take 40 hours training, including courtroom observations of the system at work. Then they are sworn in by the court.
Unlike attorneys serving as guardians or Child Protective Services caseworkers who handle many cases, a special advocate is assigned to work with just one child at the time, Schueths explained. The volunteer has access to the child's records and is expected to get to know her or his current situation.
"And you go into court and you basically talk about what's in the best interest of that child, and our CASAs make a long-term commitment," she said.
The organization asks volunteers for at least a one- to two-year commitment, said Suze Christian, executive director of Child Advocacy Services of Southeast Georgia.
"We want someone who's going to follow through on cases," she said. "Our mission is for one consistent person in that child's life while they're in care so there is some kind of stability for them, one person they can always count on."
Yet the number of CASA volunteers in the circuit doubled from earlier in 2017 to about 50 at the start of 2018, Christian said. About five have since left the program.
In addition to coordinating the CASA program, Child Advocacy Services of Southeast Georgia operates two visitation centers, one in Statesboro and one in Guyton, where biological parents receive supervised visits with their children who are in foster care.
The organization has seven paid employees, including Christian, one-full-time advocate coordinator, two part-time advocate coordinators, one part-time administrative assistant and two part-time visitation supervisors. It receives federal grants, about $145,000 for this year, but must provide a 25 percent local match, Christian said.
So, while the agency cannot pay the CASA volunteers or compensate them for mileage, donated funds from events such as the golf tournament help pay for their training and for expenses such as rent for the visitation centers and supplies, she said.
Last year, special advocates in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit saw children through to 16 family reunifications and six adoptions, Schueths reported. Also in 2017, the local organization received the Victim Impact Award from the Victimology Section of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, a national organization.
Saturday's tournament offers prizes to the top three teams, as well as a number of special prizes. The organization's website, https://casaogeechee.org, has more information as well as an entry form. Click "About us" in the menu bar and scroll down to "News and events."
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.