“It’s very difficult to present the magnitude of what’s going on right now on the topic of child welfare issues within the community,” explains CASA GAL of Hancock County executive director, Leah Cole. “It may not be seen, and for legal reasons may not be able to be talked about, but it is most definitely there. People think this is a big city problem, but it is not.”
By Ohio law, every child in a case of abuse or neglect must have a court-appointed “Guardian-ad-litem,” or GAL. A GAL’s role is to protect what is in the child’s best interest, and be the child’s voice. This is where CASA GAL of Hancock County comes in. CASA, which stands for “Court Appointed Special Advocate”, is a nationwide organization operating in all 50 states. The local branch is located at 211 1/2 E. Front Street (entrance in the back of the building), and is currently in need of volunteer advocates to help provide vital services to area children.
The local drug epidemic has had a major impact on CASA GAL. With more than 2 months left in 2018 at the time of writing, case numbers have already tripled from 2017. By year-end, they will have handled 284-300 cases involving Hancock County children (1 case = 1 child). While deaths due to overdose are decreasing due to administration of Narcan, overdoses themselves are still on the rise. Children are affected in all overdose situations, often requiring the appointment of a GAL.
The office currently has 4 full time staff members, but hopes to have 5 next year to keep up with the increase in cases. Resources are stretched thin, and the need for volunteers is pressing. They’re looking for volunteers from all walks of life. It was noted that retired teachers make great advocates, for example. Advocates are provided with a significant amount of training, and typically experiences 1-2 cases over 6 month-2 years. Leah invites anyone who is interested in learning more to speak with her in person.
Even just being aware of CASA GAL’s services is a great way to help. To learn more, call (419)424-3262, stop by the office, or contact Leah at email@example.com or (419)348-5670. She would be happy to discuss any possibilities with businesses and organizations, in addition to individuals. Marathon made an impact 6 years ago through a commitment allowing employees to volunteer during working hours. They partner with CASA for in-services and training, and allow CASA to come in and speak to staff members.
The staff’s passion for what they and the volunteer advocates do is clear. As Cole powerfully put into powerful words, “They absolutely make a difference in a kid’s life. What they do absolutely change a child’s future. What they do is a big deal. What they give to a kid is something that cannot be duplicated in any other way, anywhere.”