COFFEE AND COURT ---- Judge Janelle Haverkamp serves coffee to guests at a CASA recruitment event called “Coffee and Court” at the Cooke County Court House Monday morning. CASA volunteers, board members and potential CASA volunteers had breakfast as well as observation time in the judge’s courtroom.

CASA of North Texas is hurting for volunteers according to CASA director Vickie Robertson who spoke at “Coffee and Court” — a board member and CASA volunteer recruitment event Monday morning in the 235th District Courtroom at the Cooke County Courthouse.

CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocate.

Robertson said due to increasing Child Protective Services case loads, the organization of child advocate volunteers is “dangerously close to not being able to cover 100 percent of our children.”

Janelle Haverkamp, 235th District Court Judge said the purpose of the morning event was to acquaint potential volunteers with the organization.

“Volunteers are appointed by me and they serve as my eyes and ears out in the world,” she said.

She explained that CASA volunteers make reports about the children they advocate. Haverkamp then reviews these reports to help make decisions about the placement of the abused and neglected children she sees in her courtroom.

“Ten cases a day is not unusual,” she said. “And we don’t have the time in court to develop all the facts necessary to make an informed decision. That’s why these reports are so important — because the CASA volunteer has taken the time to interview the child, the teachers, the parents and everyone that is involved in the lives of these children.”

Potential board members and volunteers had breakfast in the courtroom while Robertson explained CASA’s mission to help abused and neglected kids and talked about the training volunteers must receive in order to work with CASA children.

Later, the group had the opportunity to actually observe CASA/CPS cases in the courtroom.

Haverkamp said because of the volume of cases she must hear at each court session, she does not have a great deal of time to review each case. But when a child has a CASA advocate working with him or her, the advocate provides the judge a report ahead of time. Judge Haverkamp can then use the report to make a well-informed decision.

“In my experience, the CASA volunteers are so dedicated and caring and are often the most consistent advocates in these children’s lives,” she said.

The judge also said she believes CPS workers are seriously underpaid and overworked.

“And there’s a high turnover rate (for the workers),” she added. She said a child may have as many as three or four different CPS workers during the life of his or her case.

According to CASA volunteers, that’s one reason CASA is so important. The volunteers can stay with the cases, get to know the children involved and be a stable force in the lives of CASA children.

As the volunteers, board members and potential volunteers enjoyed a breakfast of pastry, fruit, casserole, coffee and other breakfast foods, Robertson thanked her board members, volunteers and her staff.

She said her six years working with CASA have made her the “most fortunate person in this room.”

She explained CASA’s origins, telling those gathered in the courtroom about the Seattle judge who made the decision to return a four-year-old girl to her troubled mother because he didn’t have any other information on the case and the mother assured him she had changed her life and was capable of taking care of her daughter. Three weeks after the judge’s decision to return the child to the mother, the mother killed the little girl.

Many people said the judge was tormented by his decision and by the fact that so little background information had been available to him about the case. He went on to start a training program for court advocate volunteers which has become known as CASA.

Current CASA volunteer Cecil Harper said at a CASA event earlier this year, “A person does what I do because you want to try to make a difference in a child’s life.”

For more information on CASA or to find out about becoming a CASA volunteer, come by the CASA office at 900 North Grand Ave. or call (940) 665-2244.