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CASA needs volunteers in Jackson and Josephine counties

Hundreds of children in Southern Oregon need a volunteer who can give them a voice while their parents are in the court system, according to local directors of Court Appointed Special Advocates programs.

Jennifer Mylenek, executive director of CASA of Jackson County and CASA of Josephine County, said that despite a team of roughly 220 volunteers who help about 650 children per year in Jackson County, another 185 juveniles involved in child welfare cases were on a waiting list for a volunteer to step in.

With the start of the school year, Mylenek expects that backlog to grow. The school year is when many children in abusive households leave isolation and are back “under the watchful eye of mandatory reporters.”

“This is when we see kids that are struggling in person, and then there’s more reports to child welfare,” Mylenek said.

In Josephine County, another 90 children in Oregon Department of Human Services programs are in need of a CASA, according to Sanne Specht, program manager at CASA of Josephine County.

Volunteers advocate for the wants and needs of abused and neglected children in the foster care system, and report their findings to the judge and DHS case workers, according to Mylenek and Specht.

Mylenek said a CASA can give a child’s case the special attention that others involved in a child welfare case aren’t able to devote. Mylenek said the attorney representing a child in such cases can have a case log of up to 120 cases.

“It’s really impactful for children who really need someone in their court,” Mylenek said. “It’s unlike anything else you’ll do in the volunteer world.

Sometimes a CASA acts as “cheerleaders for parents,” other times they’re monitoring, investigating and advocating for a child’s best interests.

Because the need surpasses the number of volunteers, many foster children go without, and Mylenek said the outcomes for them are often far worse.

Children with an advocate, “99.9% of the time will not experience additional abuse,” Mylenek said of foster kids in child welfare programs that reunite the juvenile with a reformed parent.

About 7% of foster children without a CASA risk further abuse without someone speaking up for them.

People 21 and older who are interested in becoming a CASA in Jackson County are encouraged to attend a Zoom orientation that occurs Thursdays at noon. For more information and a Zoom link, call 541-734-2272 or see jacksoncountycasa.org.

CASA of Josephine County conducts weekly orientations by appointment, according to Specht. For further information about volunteering in Josephine County, call 541-474-5437 or email sspecht@jococasa.org.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.