Rotary Club of Gig Harbor Midday and Wesley Inn and Suites teamed up to host a reception May 10 to help community leaders learn about the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer program.
Retired Judge Thomas Larkin kicked off the event by describing his strong support of the CASA program from its beginnings in Pierce County in the 1980s.
CASA volunteers play a critical role for children who have been neglected, abused and removed from their homes by court order. What is now a national effort was developed by a Seattle judge in the 1970s when he noted that there was seldom anyone in his court who spoke only for the child’s best interests.
Studies have shown that CASA volunteers save Washington state significant amounts of money, but more importantly they help reduce the amount of time that a child is in the court’s custody. The CASA’s first goal is safety and the best interest of the child with the hope that the parents will be able to resolve their issues and have their family reunited.
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Larkin, who served 28 years as a judge and was a presiding judge in District Court, Juvenile Court and Superior Court, retired from his seat on the Pierce County Superior Court in 2015. He was a member of the Superior Court Judges Association and his roles have included chairman of the presiding Judges Education Committee and leader in the Detention Reform Project at Remann Hall juvenile detention center as well as supporting numerous other programs dealing with youth of Pierce County.
Funding for the event was made possible through a Rotary District 5020 Community Grant that also supported a similar county-wide event in Tacoma. Rotarian Bob Anderson and Wesley Inn owner Sue Braaten, both CASA volunteers, organized the event.
Invitations were distributed to service clubs, businesses, local government, schools and churches within the community, Anderson said. The flexible schedules for CASAs make it possible for both fully-employed persons as well as volunteers to participate in the program, he said.
“There are currently 28 CASA volunteers on this side of the Tacoma Narrows (bridge),” Anderson said, “but many more are needed here and throughout Pierce County.”
A recent plea for CASA volunteer assistance came from Julie Lowery, Pierce County CASA co-director. She mentioned eight children who need a CASA volunteer immediately. Four were newborn, one was six weeks old, two were 3 years old and one was 4 years old. Drug use by one or more parents was most often described as the reason for the children being in the court’s custody.