Ever since Marie Roth first learned about CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) as part of a college internship in Indiana in 2011, she has wanted to be an advocate.
Roth and other new advocates were sworn in at Allen County District Court earlier this month.
She’ll soon be ready to take on her first case.
Roth’s first experience with the program came while studying communications as an undergraduate. A professor asked students to take on a volunteer project, and she helped with a fundraiser for CASA.
“It introduced us to the foster care system,” Roth said. “I hadn’t had any experience with foster care, and it was eye-opening. CASA advocates make sure a child doesn’t get lost in the system, and has somebody to look out for them.”
CASA is a nation-wide program that matches trained volunteers, appointed by the court, to work with children who have been abused or neglected. The advocates interview everyone involved with the child to provide information to help the judge decide what steps to take in the best interest of the child.
CASA of the 31st Judicial District serves Allen, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson counties.
Roth said she connected with CASA because her mother was adopted. Roth and her husband, Timothy, who is pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Humboldt, want to be involved with adoption at some point in the future.
The couple moved to Humboldt about four years ago, and briefly became foster parents. They welcomed a foster child into their home for about six months, and had a couple of temporary placements before they left the program.
“We saw the good days, the bad days, the ugly days,” Marie Roth said. “We saw how the children grew with love and consistency. As an advocate, I will understand the struggles of foster parents. I also know that sometimes, case workers have to make difficult decisions.”
Roth learned about the 31st Judicial District’s CASA program soon after moving to Allen County and wanted to become an advocate. She worked with Director Aimee Daniels, who scheduled training classes with a group of applicants.
The process to become an advocate is quite intense. It involves an application and 15 different background checks. Advocates must complete 30 hours of training, attend court cases and write a thorough case report before they are officially sworn in by a judge.
The trainees started classes in October, meeting about twice a week for a total of six hours. Their goal was to complete the training before Christmas.
Many of the training sessions were taught by other advocates, which Roth said was very helpful. It was easier to learn from someone with that type of experience, who could share tips and advice.
They also heard from representatives from various support groups in the community, like xxxx
Roth attended hearings in both Allen and Neosho district courts.
The hardest part, though, was completing the report. Think of it like a college final.
Advocates-in-waiting had to read and sort through interviews, then compile the information into a report that could be presented to a judge. Daniels helped the volunteers understand what was required for the report.
“It took a lot of time to read through it and make sure I understood,” Roth said.
That report was a test, and will be just slightly different from those she’ll be expected to compile as an advocate. In the future, she’ll visit and interview everyone involved in the case before she puts together the report.
The reports were completed in January and February, just in time before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
All of the hard part of becoming an advocate was done, but it would be months before they could be sworn in. The state closed all district courts until June. The swearing-in ceremony wasn’t able to be scheduled until Sept. 10.
Four of the five new advocates attended the ceremony. Roth was nine months pregnant at the time, just days away from giving birth to the youngest of her four children, Shiloh.
She plans to wait until Shiloh is 3-months-old before she takes on a case.
Advocates can pick which cases they would like to pursue. Typically, a judge will select cases he believes would benefit from having a CASA.
Advocates must meet with the child at least once a month.
Roth looks forward to sharing a hobby. She learned that working on a project together is a good way to bond with a child. She enjoys arts and crafts, or reading a book together with the child. She prefers to work with younger children, since her own children are young.
Her husband also plans to go through the training at some point.
“I hope that, with at least once child’s case I get to be part of, that child believes they can do what they want to do in this life, and they’re not stuck in the turmoil that’s been part of their life up to that point,” she said.