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Manchester advocates for children, volunteers sought

Staff writer

When a child’s future hangs in the balance, Marion County District Court will now have someone to call upon to help guide decisions.

Hope Manchester was sworn in Monday as a court-appointed special advocate for Marion County.

Although Manchester has worked as a CASA volunteer in Morris County for about a year, she has spent most of her adult life working with children’s issues as a child psychologist.

Her interest in working with children whose futures are in limbo comes from close to home.

“My own children went through a period when their stepdad abused them,” Manchester said.

Eliza Gentile, executive director of CASA of the Eighth Judicial District, said CASA volunteers are a stable presence in a child’s life during a tumultuous time.

Often the volunteer is assigned to work with a child when the court is considering whether to allow children to remain in their home or place them elsewhere.

“They are assigned to the case until it closes,” Gentile said.

CASAs help secure permanency for children when Department of Children and Families has become involved because of alleged or confirmed abuse or neglect.

If a judge appoints a CASA to the case, they advocate for the best interests of the child so they obtain a safe, homelike, and permanent placement.

Additionally, CASA volunteers are sometimes appointed to work with children in the juvenile justice system and those involved in domestic relations cases.

“I have never in this county had one available to me,” district judge Michael Powers said.

Powers said Morris, Dickinson, and Geary counties have had CASAs available.

“We need volunteers,” Powers said.

CASA volunteers undergo screening and background checks before being accepted into the program.

“We require that they are 21 or older,” Gentile said.

Applicants fill out a written form providing educational, employment, and personal experience with child abuse and neglect information.

Three references are needed, along with a personal interview to determine whether the volunteer is a good fit for the program.

The necessary records check includes Kansas Bureau of Investigation and national criminal databases.

Volunteers also take 30 or more hours of specialized training.

“We’re working on a local background check,” Gentile said. “We also ask them what kind of sibling groups that they would be interested in working with.”

New CASAs are mentored by experienced CASAs to help them get familiar with the program and get started working with a child.

Besides talking with the child, the CASA talks to people around them, such as preschool teachers, physicians, and the like.

CASAs see the child at least once a month, keep up with the status of the court case and give a report to the court.

To contact Gentile for more about the CASA program, call (785) 762-3907.

Last modified Oct. 18, 2017

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