Volunteers speak out for abused children

SANDUSKY Children subjected to abuse often find their cries fall on deaf ears. A group of volunteers hope to change th
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Children subjected to abuse often find their cries fall on deaf ears.

A group of volunteers hope to change that and give these children a voice.

Judge Robert DeLamatre swore in seven Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers, the single-largest group to date, at the Erie County Common Pleas court Friday.

The Erie/Ottawa County CASA volunteers speak for and represent abused and neglected children in the courtroom.

"Advocacy isn't easy. All of you have volunteered to do a tough job," DeLamatre said. "We know what goes into it. We may not always acknowledge it, but we do appreciate it."

Betty Simmons, 60, of Sandusky, knows what these children go through. She was also abused as a child.

"I planned on doing this for a long time," Simmons said. "I really think it's a good thing for the children."

Jeanne Palmer, 59, of Sandusky, worked in the Child Assault Prevention Program of Erie County for four years before joining the CASA volunteers.

"They can't pick their parents or living situation," Palmer said. "They need someone from the outside to speak for them for their betterment. I think the kids need a neutral voice."

CASA volunteers are appointed by DeLamatre, who serves as the family court judge. They are highly screened before training and must have no criminal record.

Volunteers enter a five-week training program designed to cover courtroom procedures, child development, domestic violence, substance abuse training, mental health and cultural awareness.

Each of the volunteers comes from a different perspective, said Patty James, program coordinator. Their professions vary from nurses to child psychologists to bankers.

Despite their different backgrounds, the volunteers are united in their love for children.

"I just feel that we have to have a part in our community," said Rebekah Dean, 52, of Sandusky. "I have a heart for children, especially abused and neglected children."

These women are expected to work at least two years as CASA volunteers. They could spend up to 15 to 20 hours a month investigating child abuse cases and representing these children in court.

"They stick with that child throughout the process," said Terri Stephan, program director. "There's one constant adult in that child's life. It gives them a sense of consistency and stability."

"I think that the long-term commitment is vital because nobody seems committed to children," Dean said. "I think it's one of the most important parts."

On Monday, the volunteers will receive their cases to investigate and start their representation of abused children.

In Erie and Ottawa counties, there are 37 CASA volunteers.

The next training session for CASA volunteers begins May 8 for Ottawa County and the second week of July for Erie County.