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Children’s court advocate program goes statewide

A program providing children with volunteer advocates in courtrooms became a unified, statewide initiative this month called Connecticut CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates.

The program, which pairs trained volunteers with children who have experienced abuse and neglect, began in 2018 and grew to have two branches, in southern and northern Connecticut. The branches merged on July 1 to strengthen support for some of the most vulnerable youth across the state.

The new entity will be based in New Haven but will have volunteers across the state, led by New Haven resident Josiah Brown, who served as the founding executive director of CASA’s southern Connecticut branch.

Since 2019, Brown has been working with children along the coastline by connecting them with advocates who help them navigate their court cases.

The group’s newly expanded 18-member board will help recruit, train and support volunteers.

Gina Keifer, who moved to Groton last July from Illinois, has been volunteering with CASA in both states for five years. So far, she has been paired with at least 14 children, sticking by their side as their cases are heard in court.

“What’s really wonderful is that CASA is becoming known and really supported by the courts in Connecticut,” said Keifer, who is currently helping two children involved in protective supervision cases, where the hope is that they’ll be able to stay with their biological parent.

CASA advocates have a huge impact on the children they work with, Keifer said, because they are often the only adult who remains a constant throughout their case. “Because we are with them at least monthly we become one unifying or singular face every month that they can count on,” she said. “A CASA volunteer is there the entire time, they get to know them and know they're going to see them and they know that they can trust them.”

Keifer said she was also grateful that Brown would be leading the charge and commended his leadership so far in southern Connecticut. “The powerful support he has given to this program is phenomenal,” she said, describing Brown as a problem solver and a great communicator. “I just can’t say enough good things about him and I’m so happy that he is going to have this impact in a positive way across the state.”

Brown, in a statement, said CASA is looking forward to drawing upon its existing pool of volunteers, advisors, ambassadors and board members “to raise the profile of our nonprofit on behalf of children’s best interests,” as it expands.

“We encourage prospective volunteers of all backgrounds to join this movement,” he said. “CASA volunteers help identify safe, permanent homes where children can thrive, along with resources for them and their families. Connecticut CASA will deliver high-quality advocacy even more efficiently, to make CASA’s volunteer-based approach more widely available.”

To learn more about volunteering with CASA, visit its website, connecticutcasa.org.

t.hartz@theday.com

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