Bruce Laidlaw's first case as a CASA volunteer sticks in his mind. A 2-year-old boy was wandering the streets in diapers while being cared for by his kindergarten-age sister, who likely had been sexually abused.
But, four years later, even as the legal case with their mother continues, the children now have "a fair chance at life," says Laidlaw, whose work as a CASA undoubtedly played a role in their change of fortunes.
Volunteers with CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, work with abused and neglected children to effectively move them through the court process and into a safe, permanent environment. But they need help to provide that service and community members can offer some by participating in the “Motown Get Down,” a fundraising dance party to benefit CASA from 9-11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Ashland Elks Lodge, 255 E. Main St.
Oregon law "requires" that every ward of the court in the child welfare system be placed with a CASA. But insufficient funding makes that requirement an elusive target — there are still nearly 500 children in Jackson County alone who do not have a CASA, says Laidlaw, who is also a board member for CASA of Jackson County.
The case with the two children is still pending, and now involves a third child, as the mother gave birth during the court process.
According to Laidlaw, the mother of the children was homeless and a meth addict, and had already given away one child for adoption.
“When the kids first came to the attention of child welfare, the 2-year-old was wondering the streets in diapers, covered with scabs and feces, and the older girl, 5 or 6 at the time, was responsible for taking care of that boy,” Laidlaw said. “Apparently she had been sexually assaulted when she was younger and they were homeless.”
Laidlaw said when he first met them the 2-year-old boy couldn’t talk and the little girl on her first day of first grade hid behind a filing cabinet.
“The kids were so desperate, they never had anyone to even talk to them,” Laidlaw said. “When I started with them, I didn’t really know what to do, it was sort of beyond my pay grade. This is not the world that I come from.”
He said he began reading to them during his visits.
“It was obvious that they had never had any adult in their life to pay attention to them or treat them with the tiniest bit of respect,” Laidlaw said.
Recently, a family member in Roseburg was located, and is willing to adopt the three children.
Laidlaw's efforts with the children didn't require an advanced degree, only a willingness to be there for them.
“They looked to me as the first person they could count on,” Laidlaw said. “And all I had to do was show up, it’s not like it was rocket science.”
He said the children have since caught up to their peers and are doing well in their new home.
“The kids are doing great and they’re going to have a fair chance at life, and I’d like to think that I had something to do with that,” Laidlaw said.
There are 154 CASAs serving about 300 kids in Jackson County. Laidlaw said he works with five children beyond the three in Roseburg.
“Every family offers a different challenge,” Laidlaw said. “You just have to care.”
Laidlaw notes that 45 percent of CASA’s income comes from fundraising.
“If we only relied on government funding, there would be way fewer kids served,” he said. “That’s why the Elks Club fundraiser is so great.”
Laidlaw has helped 16 children in his four years as a CASA.
“With a CASA, you have a much less chance of finding yourself back in the system again,” he said. “It gives the kids a chance at finding a permanent home. The bottom line is that you advocate for their best interest.”
Jennifer Mylenek, executive director of CASA of Jackson County, agreed that community funding is essential.
“CASA would not be able to do the work we do without the support of our community,” she said. “Working together with the Elks, we will be able to reach out to recruit and train more CASA volunteers to help lessen our current wait list of 487 children. Together we can change lives.”
At Saturday's event, the Danielle Kelly Soul Project will perform a mixture of Motown, soul and oldies. All ticket and bar sales will be donated to CASA. Tickets are $12 in advance at www.Elks994.org/buy or $15 at the door if not sold in advance. Admission is open to those 21 years and older.
For more information about donating to or participating with CASA, see www.jacksoncountycasa.org.
— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.email@example.com.