Hamilton County Juvenile Court last week celebrated 30 years of involvement with the local CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program, which works to ensure abused and neglected children in the county have a safe, permanent home and the opportunity to thrive.
In 1985, the late Judge Dixie T. Smith of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court applied to have the court considered for the CASA program through a grant from the Office of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The program was part of a growing trend across the nation that trained volunteers to work with abused or neglected children who were coming through the court process.
The modest grant was approved and the CASA program opened its doors in a trailer located at the rear of the court house. Support from the Junior League of Chattanooga as well as many other community leaders allowed the first group of volunteers to complete the required 40 hours of training and begin working with the children initially assigned to them.
Volunteers meet the children assigned to them as well as those caring for them. Over a period of time, they observe the home situations, meet with parents and other caregivers, and establish a relationship with the child that allows them to provide insights into the case of the child assigned to the volunteer.
Over the last three decades, CASAs have served in the courtrooms of Judge Smith, Judge Suzanne Bailey, and now Judge Rob Philyaw. Each year, volunteers provide an average of 1,035 hours. In today’s dollars, their efforts provide more than $21,579.50 in services to the court system.
Amy Pedigo serves as the court’s local CASA program director. Each year, she trains volunteers not only to work with children in the program, but also to serve on the Court’s Foster Care Review Board. “The CASA program is one of the strongest in the state,” said Pedigo. “Because of the longevity, we’re able to document the difference CASAs make in the lives of those they represent.”
Judge Philyaw agrees. “CASA volunteers are the lifeblood of these types of cases. They are extremely effective and are able to bring immediate concerns to members of the court’s Volunteer Services Department for review. My hope is that members of our community will want to engage with the Hamilton County Juvenile Court as a CASA volunteer.”
Today, the program receives strong support from the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the Chattanooga Bar Association. “We are proud to support CASA,” said Jeffrey Maddux of the YLD. “Our attorneys interact daily with CASA volunteers, and the work ethic and spirit of these volunteers is amazing.”
CASA volunteers, local and state CASA staff, and area judges and attorneys celebrated the anniversary of the program at AIM Center Thursday evening.
For information about becoming a CASA volunteer or becoming a volunteer at the Hamilton County Juvenile Court, call Amy Pedigo at (423) 209-5230.
Source: Some information from Hamilton County Juvenile Court.
To see more photos, pick up a copy of the Hamilton County Herald.