Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma is a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) agency. Headquartered in Claremore, Oklahoma, the organization supports CASA volunteers in both the 12th Judicial District (Rogers, Mayes, and Craig Counties) and the13th Judicial District (Ottawa and Delaware Counties). To better serve the 13th Judicial District, CANO (Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma) also maintains a branch office in Miami, Oklahoma.
The mission of Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma (CANO) is to speak for the best interest of abused and neglected children in the courts of Northeastern Oklahoma. We recruit and support quality volunteer representation for children with a goal to ensure each child is placed in a safe, permanent, and nurturing home.
Why is CASA so important?
In court proceedings involving abused and neglected children, CASA Volunteers provide an unbiased, child-focused point of view that is vital to help determine what situations will allow a child to thrive. In most cases, the children represented by CASA Volunteers have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. A judge then must decide if a child can safely return home to his or her family or if a permanent home must be arranged to keep a child healthy and safe. When considering the actions of parents or child welfare agencies, it’s the child who has the most at stake and their needs can often be overlooked. The CASA Volunteer and organization acts as the voice for the child to ensure their best interests are in the forefront.
What is a CASA Volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a community volunteer who is recruited, trained and supervised by a CASA Advocate Supervisor and appointed by a Judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children during a dependency case. CASA Volunteers spend an average of 10-15 hours a month advocating for a child and the average case is one and a half years. The CASA Volunteer gathers information from those who know the child best and acts as the “eyes and ears” for the Judge during the child’s time in foster care.
Why is a CASA Volunteer needed?
The CASA Volunteer is often the only one constant person advocating for the minor(s) throughout the duration of the case, often holding the child’s history, and providing a caring and supportive person that the child can trust. The on-going presence of a CASA volunteer helps prevent children from languishing in foster care while helping to ensure they end up with a safe and permanent home.
How are CASA Volunteers assigned to cases?
Once a child has been removed from his/her home due to unsafe living conditions, court hearings will be held to determine if the child should remain out of the home. At the dispositional hearing, the parent/s will be given a treatment plan, also known as an ISP. It is typically at this point when a CASA is requested. The Advocate Coordinator will then draw up the court order appointing the volunteer. Attention is given to try and match up the best volunteer for each case in regards to personal preferences, geographical location, and expertise.
CASA Volunteer Spotlight
To help people better understand what it takes to be a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer, Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma spotlights one of our advocates each month. This month’s CASA Spotlight features Charylene Smith who serves as an CASA volunteer working with abused and neglected children in Craig County.
With a tremendous love for children, this retired teacher, brings a straight-forward, no-nonsense style to working on the CASA cases to which she is assigned.
Born and raised in Texas, Charylene began her teaching career there before moving to Cimarron County, OK, where she continued her profession as both a teacher and a principal. Before retiring, she was the Title I Coordinator in Walsh, CO.
Charylene and her husband raised their son and daughter in Keyes, OK, where her husband managed a ranch. Unfortunately, in 2002 her husband was killed in a ranching accident.
After retiring from her position in Walsh, Charylene moved to Oklahoma to be near her grown children and her four “perfect” grandchildren. After the move, she began seeing the ads on television about CASA and thought it might be something she would be interested in doing because of her love for children.
With a huge “heart” for kids, she explained, “Teachers know things are going on a lot sooner than anybody else does because they have the kids the majority of the day. You don’t necessarily know specific things that are going on, but you know there is a reason this kid is not getting his homework done. Through experience, you can spot the kiddos that are having extreme problems.” So, in 2014, Charylene decided to take the training to become a CASA volunteer.
While she enjoys the CASA work, she stresses that the sadness that is involved with the cases breaks one’s heart. But it brings her far greater joy to be able to help these children. She shared that her joy comes from, “that I might be able to bring some tiny, tiny piece of relief to those kiddos, to provide some answers to their problems, and to assist in getting them what they need to progress.”
She continued, “As a teacher, I always felt that after they left my 6th grade class, they would be out in the big wide world and the world was going to eat them up, so I wanted to get them ready before they left my class. I feel very protective that way – of the classes that I taught and of my CASA children.”
Charylene indicates one of the biggest challenges in being a CASA volunteer comes with dealing with parents who are failing to be a good parent. She stated, “I just want parents to be parents. I felt that way as a teacher in school, too. In the Bible, God gives you a mom and a dad and there’s a reason. It’s because children need a mom and a dad. However, when moms or dads spend their time hurting their children, I don’t have a lot of patience for that parent, because their child is going to suffer from their inadequacies the rest of their lives.”
However, Charylene indicates that there are rewards in being a CASA, too. She shared, “The biggest reward is finally seeing children have a good, stable permanency in their life – and to finally have the chance to become a productive member of society and to feel good about themselves – to be able to get past the bad stuff and to go on with their lives.
When asked about the activities she does with the children on her CASA cases, Charylene shared, “I like to visit one-on-one with them in their rooms, so I can see what their little life is like. I do not like to ask all of those prying questions that they have had to repeat 150 times. I just want them to be able to share with me what they are comfortable to share.”
“I also enjoy going with DHS if they do family visits”, she continued. “I enjoy going with them, so I can just glean from their conversations and their questions what I need to know. I can certainly have input with any of that and have always been welcomed to do that.”
“I will tell you that Craig County DHS is incredible,” Charylene added. “They are right on target with what they do, and they include me in everything. They answer every question I have and they’re incredible in that way.”
When asked what she would tell someone considering becoming a CASA volunteer, Charylene stated, “I would tell that they better be able to endure the hardships that they are going to see, the things that these little kiddos are going through. And they better be able to step up and say what’s right or wrong in these situations and be willing to put the facts out there.”
We are grateful to the dedicated men and women, like Charylene, who have stepped up to advocate for abused and neglected children in northeast Oklahoma. Please join us in thanking Charylene for service to the children in foster care in Craig County.
Spotlight on Charylene Smith
“Charylene is very nurturing and has a sweet disposition, but she doesn’t have an issue with speaking up during meetings or hearings about her concerns on her cases. She uses her words wisely and is very articulate in getting her point across. Craig County is very fortunate to have Charylene as a CASA volunteer.”
Sandra Rains, Advocate Coordinator for Craig and Rogers Counties
The Value of CASA
CASA programs train volunteers to work on behalf of children in the foster care system.
Once assigned to a case, CASA volunteers work to help children thrive rather than just survive.
The Dr. Phil Foundation is committed to supporting organizations and programs that build awareness and offer solutions to address the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual needs of children and families.
Dr. Phil McGraw and his wife, Robin, are the official spokespersons for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).
“Robin and I are committed to improving the lives of disadvantaged and foster children.”
— Dr. Phil
Links for Community Resources
Use the following links to access a variety of community resource lists for Northeastern Oklahoma.
OKLAHOMA CRIME VICTIMS COMPENSATION: Use this LINK to access information about the Oklahoma Crime Victims Compensation on the ok.gov website.
Child Abuse Resources
National Child Abuse Hotline
The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is staffed 24/7 with professional crisis counselors. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are confidential.
Use this LINK to access their website for additional resources regarding child abuse.
Domestic Violence Resources
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Hotline advocates are available 24/7 everyday of the year to provide confidential crisis intervention, safety planning, information and referrals to agencies throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Use this LINK to access a list of how to offer support to a victim of domestic violence.
Meet Our Staff
Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma (CANO) has a highly qualified staff of professionals. Use the following link to read their bios.
CANO Board of Directors
CANO appreciates the time and dedication of the agency’s Board of Directors in helping ensure that the mission of CASA is achieved in northeastern Oklahoma. Use the following link to meet our current Board.