Category Archives: News | July 2020

Skilled CASA Champions

Every child in foster care will have a fierce and skilled CASA champion by their side. That’s our vision. But what does it take to support a community volunteer on their journey to becoming skilled?

To start, every CASA volunteer completes 30 hours of preservice training. This National CASA training, provided by our very own Ryan Brashears and Tara Marcom, offers an incredible overview of foster care, the systemic issues surrounding abuse and neglect, court report writing, and powerful case studies. Following the completion of training, each advocate is assigned a staff supervisor who provides additional, case-specific, on-the-job training.

The more knowledgeable our volunteers are about available services and resources, the struggles parents face, and the health conditions commonly seen in children, the more powerful their advocacy will be. That’s why after their first year of service, each volunteer must also complete 12 hours of continuing education per year.

Because there are so many facets to the world of child welfare, we often collaborate with people from other agencies and organizations who are experts in their field and willing to share their knowledge with our volunteers. Here are a few of our partners who graciously offered their time to educate our volunteers this past year:

“Autism Spectrum Disorder” – Dr. Aleza Green (She’s also a CASA volunteer!)

Tour of the Teen Action and Support Center – Jacqueline Perez, TASC

“Hispanic and Latinx Culture” – Diana Gonzalez, One Community

“Hidden in Plain Sight”  – Caren Cox and Kat Pavon, Our Healthy Communities

“Drug Trends in NWA” – Detective Tyler Moore, Fayetteville Police Department

“Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder” – Tamara Keech, Arkansas None for Nine

“Illuminating the Darkness of Sexual Exploitation” – Gretchen Smeltzer and Christy Williams, Into the Light

“The Court Timeline” – Tammy Mullins, Arkansas Office of the Courts

Tour of the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter and Hope Academy – Jake Gibbs, NWACS

“Adoptions” – Daniela Salamo, Benton County DHS

“Recognizing, Reporting, and Preventing Child Maltreatment” – Casey Atwood, Children’s Safety Center

We’d like to thank these individuals and organizations for empowering our volunteers to be the best advocates they can be for children in foster care!

Serving Every Child

Five years ago, CASA of Northwest Arkansas set a very important goal: to provide a CASA to every child in need by the year 2020. We coined this goal our 2020 vision, and this year we achieved it! Between July 2019 and June 2020, we were a voice for every child in need across our four county region! We are so grateful for YOU – our remarkable volunteers, supporters, and partners who made this achievement possible.

Here’s a short Q&A with our Executive Director, Crystal Vickmark, about the journey.

What led to the creation of the 2020 vision?

In 2015, the board of directors challenged us to make our dream a reality. We had been saying we were going to serve 100% of the kids for years, but they wanted to see how we planned to do it. Challenge accepted!

At that time, what percentage of children was CASA of Northwest Arkansas serving?

At the time, we were serving 63% of the children in foster care. We knew we had to grow by 10% (or more) each year to meet the growth of our community and children entering the foster care system.

Why is it important that every child in foster care has a CASA volunteer?

There are so many reasons why a CASA volunteer is essential to a child, but the primary reason is that our children need a voice. They deserve to have someone whose only mission is the ensure that their needs are being met and best interests are heard. That someone is a CASA.

How did you plan to meet this ambitious goal?

After pulling together data and statistics on how many children we anticipated would be in care by 2020, we were able to determine how many volunteers we would need to retain, recruit, and train. We also had to determine our ideal volunteer supervision and staffing levels. We have a 30:1 volunteer to staff member ratio and as the number of volunteers increased, we needed to add more program staff which meant we needed to raise more funds! We had every step laid out for five years and religiously reviewed and modified our plans as we went.

Now that the 2020 vision has been met, what’s next?

Anticipating that we would meet our 2020 goal, we created a concurrent goal of ensuring our volunteers are highly trained to fiercely advocate for children in foster care. We have highly trained and specialized staff who are providing support and training to our amazing volunteers. Serving every child in need in 2020 doesn’t mean more children will not enter the foster care system, nor will we stop recruiting and training new volunteers! We have two new volunteer training classes starting in August and several more scheduled after that.

As Crystal said, our job is far from over. Unfortunately, children continue to come into care every day. While we celebrate this achievement, our eyes are always on the future and the possible challenges to come.