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) recently opened 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
Each month, Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma (CANO) spotlights one of our volunteers. This month’s CASA Spotlight features Gayle Hanson, who serves as an advocate for children in foster care in Ottawa County. In addition to serving as a CASA volunteer, Gayle also serves as the part-time CANO Training Coordinator.
After moving to the Columbus, Kansas, area in 2015 to be near her grandchildren, Gayle discovered that she had time on her hands and wanted to do some volunteer work. She shared, “It was time to give back and CASA has always called me.”
She stated, “I had been a social worker and discovered that the children were the center of the case but they rarely were represented or heard in court. (That was before CASA was even started in Seattle.) But down the road, I heard about CASA and thought ‘what a wonderful idea’ because I saw what happened when the child wasn’t represented. So, that thought stayed in my head all the way through many occupations until I retired. Then I went looking for a CASA program.”
When asked about why she is a CASA volunteer in Oklahoma rather than Kansas, Gayle explains, “”There is no CASA program in my county in Kansas. The nearest CASA office is in Miami, Oklahoma, just 30 miles from my home.”
However, living in Kansas does present Gayle with a bit of a challenge. She stated, “The biggest challenge is the travel involved in visiting my foster kids. From my home in Kansas, it’s over a two-hour drive to get to see them. The frustrating part for me is that there are few foster homes locally. And, the sad part of it is that the parents don’t get to see their kids as often either. Transportation is a huge issue for them as well and that bothers me.”
But Gayle also is quick to point out that there are some great rewards serving as a CASA. She underscored that one of her biggest thrills is seeing a child adopted into a loving family. She shared how she loves attending the adoption proceedings. She stated, “Everybody shows up for the adoption – mom, dad, baby, brothers, sisters, grandmas and grandpas. The judge is smiling; everybody is happy.”
Gayle shared that one of her very first cases was a kinship placement. The adoptive family was a married couple with two school-age boys. They received a call in the wee hours of the morning asking them to take a baby girl into their home as the family member was being picked up by the police. With no nursery or baby items still in the home, friends and neighbors pitched in and loaned them all the baby stuff that they needed.
The mother told Gayle that the baby changed the lives of all the family members. She expressed that the baby added a new dimension to their family’s dynamics and that it was the most wonderful thing that had happened to them. Now the brothers take care of their new little sister instead of fighting with each other and they play with her for hours. Gayle stated, “The mother told me that that little girl came into their lives for them to help and changed them all.”
Like all CASA volunteers, Gayle is a caring individual who wants to ensure every child has a safe and loving home. We are grateful for the dedication of this volunteer who is giving of her time and talents to serve abused and neglected children in our court system. Please join us in thanking Gayle for her service.
“Gayle cares deeply about these kids and wants what is best for them. In each of her cases she has done thorough investigations on family history and takes the time to talk to anyone involved with that family to gather more information. She is very careful in making recommendations to ensure she makes the best decision for these kids.”
Sally Davis, Advocate Coordinator for Ottawa and Delaware 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.