‘Voices for Kids’ sought

Published 8:27 pm Monday, March 5, 2012

A new program coming to Suffolk is looking for volunteers who love working with and advocating for children, and training is coming up soon for those interested.

The Voices for Kids program gathers volunteers who can be court-appointed special advocates for children caught in the middle of criminal cases, such as those who have been abused or neglected. A judge requests the involvement of such a volunteer in a case.

“They actually are trying to meet the kid’s needs and what’s best for their future,” said Jennifer McConnie, program coordinator for Voices for Kids in Suffolk. “We need to make sure someone can speak for the child.”

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Volunteers work along with social workers and guardians ad litem, whose schedules can sometimes be too busy to spend a lot of time on any one case.

Voices for Kids volunteers, however, get a maximum of two cases at a time so that they have time to focus on each child, McConnie said.

“They have to have interest in children and their rights and special needs,” McConnie said.

In addition, volunteers who develop a rapport with children, their families and foster families sometimes are able to get information and observe situations that wouldn’t be available to the social worker, McConnie said.

Volunteers are asked to stay involved with children throughout the process, visiting them at home, making sure they are doing well at school and reporting information to the court about what’s going on at home, she said. A volunteer can also help determine what services a child needs to be successful.

Volunteers are asked to commit to the program for a year.

“The flexibility is there, but you also have to commit for a year that you can be a CASA volunteer,” she said.

They have to go through the training process, pass background and fingerprint checks and be at least 21 years old.

They also must maintain confidentiality about their cases, file monthly reports to Voices for Kids about their activity and be able to communicate verbally and in writing to the court about their observations.

Most volunteers spend about 10 to 15 hours a month on each case, McConnie said.

“It could increase or decrease,” she said. “It depends on the case.”

Above all, she said, volunteers should be interested in the well being of children.

The organization is looking for as many volunteers as it can recruit, she said.

For more information about volunteering, call McConnie at 323-6271.