By Jeong Park
Daily Press Intern

Lindsay Gilchrist saw a family separated and reunited in six months.

As a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, she took on a case in which two children were removed from their home because of suspected abuse. For the following six months, Gilchrist spent hours interviewing and working with the children’s foster parents and biological parents to reunite the children with their biological parents.

“It has been very rewarding,” Gilchrist said. “We were there for the reason.”

The advocates investigate current situation of children in the foster care system. They interview the children, the children’s relatives and other parties involved such as foster parents and social workers. Then, the advocates draft a recommendation to the judge about what actions can be taken to best help the children.

CASA of Los Angeles, an organization that trains the advocates, will hold an information session in Santa Monica on July 21. In the session, the program’s staff will share what responsibilities and requirements CASAs have to fulfill.

CASA of Los Angeles started in 1978, one year after a Seattle juvenile judge first created such program. Nationally, the program has more than 76,000 volunteers in 49 states, helping more than 251,000 children.

In Los Angeles County, the program has doubled in size in the last five years,  with about 500 CASAs providing long-term, intensive help to about 800 children. There are 12 CASAs in Santa Monica.

Dilys Garcia, director of CASA of Los Angeles, said the organization is improving its infrastructure and training to support more volunteers, as the need for more volunteers has grown with the county having about 37,000 children in the foster care system.

Garcia said the plan is for CASA of Los Angeles to have 1,500 volunteers by 2022.

Garcia said children in the foster care system often have an attorney, a social worker, and others such as a medical and mental care professional working with them. However, she said CASA seeks to provide a different perspective on the case.

“CASA is a member of the community,” Garcia said. “The volunteer is playing more of a role of a surrogate parent. The bottom line is that there’s someone paying attention from the point of view of the child.”

Taylor McCormick, an emergency room doctor and a CASA, said because she is a volunteer approaching the case from a different perspective, people have been more likely to work with her.

McCormick said her first case was a child who was born to a mother who had drug abuse and mental health problems. She started working on the case when the child was about a year old, she said.

“I just held her and tried to put pieces together,” Mccormick said.

Since then, she has tried to find the best home for the child and helped with the child’s medical issues.

McCormick said some parts of her job as a volunteer such as going to the court to talk to the judge can be intimidating and hard at times. However, she said she finds the job very rewarding.

“It is different from spending a day at the food bank,” McCormick said. “CASA is a really good opportunity to do something substantial and long-lasting.”

The information session will be on July 21 from 7 to 8:15 p.m. at St. Monica Catholic Church, 725 California Ave. One can become a CASA by submitting an application available on the CASA of Los Angeles website and passing background checks as well as undergoing a 40-hour pre-service training program over seven weeks.

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