MOULTONBOROUGH — A group of men who have taken on the demanding role of serving as Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children say that the monthly meetings they hold at the Moultonborough Public Library help them become more effective advocates.
When the group met Monday the common theme was the that the group is hoping to see more male volunteers get involved with the program, which works to help the 1,100 New Hampshire children who are thrust into court each year because they are victims of physical or sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment. CASA New Hampshire is currently in the midst of its second 100-man campaign statewide.
The local meetings started as informal breakfast gatherings at the Soda Shoppe in Laconia of two or three men and have evolved over the years into meetings which also involve men from the northern part of the state at which ideas and problems are shared and solutions suggested that help move many cases to better resolutions.
Bob Landry of Laconia, a retired military officer who serves as chairman of the men’s group, said that he has been a CASA volunteer for seven years and during that time he has worked with over 20 children . He is currently involved with three cases in Laconia Circuit Court and sees an urgent need for more men to to join the New Hampshire CASA organization.
He feels that it is his job “to be the eyes and the ears of the judges around the state.” He says that he enjoys using the skills he developed by working on strategic planning at the Pentagon to define the problems faced by a client, coming up with options and then making recommendations to the court which place the child’s needs as the top priority.
Like other volunteers, he had to complete a comprehensive 40-hour pre-service training. The curriculum is designed to inform volunteers about courtroom procedures, the dynamics of abuse and neglect, cultural differences and effective advocacy techniques. Professionals from social service agencies, lawyers and judges participate with the CASA staff to share their expertise, helping give volunteers the tools they need for affective advocacy.
CASA came to New Hampshire in 1988 as the result of an Marcia “Martry” Sink’s effort. Sink, who is now president and CEO of CASA, had been a foster parent, and, subsequently adopting a foster child who became one of her three sons,
She says that she came to the realization that victimized children of New Hampshire needed advocates to give them a voice in court. In 1988 she founded CASA of NH, bringing the Seattle-based concept of providing volunteer court advocates to the victimized children.
Now, 27 years later, CASA has a statewide network of offices with 23 staff members, 14 of whom provide direct supervision and oversight to CASA’s 443 volunteers, and represents 85 percent of all children who come before New Hampshire courts in abuse and neglect cases.
Last year in Belknap County, there 49 cases involving 85 children and the county has 30 volunteers. Carroll County had 34 cases involving 75 children and that county has 29 volunteers.
Retired Judge Willard “Bud” Martin says that he handled many juvenile cases as a judge and has witnessed the effectiveness of CASA in representing the best interests of children. He has been a CASA volunteer since his retirement as a judge and says that he is proud to be associated with the other CASA volunteers. He said that the emotional abuse which children undergo affects them for the rest of their lives and is a major contributor to the problems seen in American society.
George Blaisdell of Bridgewater, a retired school superintendent, says that once an advocate gains the trust of the children it can be a rewarding situation. “When a child picks up the phone and calls when there’s some kind of crisis it shows how much they trust you.”
He said that every year he looks forward to two special Christmas cards he receives from former clients who continue to show their gratitude for his work on their behalf.
Many of the volunteers have corporate or military backgrounds, like Robert Lee of Alton, a retired FBI agent; Earl Jenkins of Center Harbor, a retired vice president for Verizon, David Ball of Alexandria, who was the high tech industry area for 25 years; Ken Hill., who had a career in public health, and Joe Frazier of Canaan, who was a naval officer and later handled Information Technology for a major publisher in Boston,
Leo Sullivan of Intervale, a retired child neurologist, handles cases in Conway and Berlin courts and said his first contact with CASA was not that good. “It was my impression that it was an organization mostly run by women and they frowned on men being involved, especially with representing women in their teens.”
But when he later learned that CASA was looking for men he applied and went through the training. He said it was “eye opening. You’re dealing with families in lower economic rungs and you get to see how people in that strata get along. Ultimately the kids are going to do what they want to do and ultimately the family will prevail,” he said, citing his experience.
He said the Conway area is one of the four hot spots in the state for heroin but it escapes the attention of many residents of the area, whom he described as being in a state of denial. “We have a lot of retirees who look at the world as if it’s a high school in the 1950s.”
One of the newest CASA volunteers, Ken Gorrell of Northfield, said he was motivated by concerns over protecting the most vulnerable children in the state and that his first experiences with the court system have already shown him how difficult it it can be to find housing for a troubled juvenile.
He said that the state’s social ills are reaching critical mass and there are not enough resources to deal with the problems.
Those attending Monday’s meeting said that they feel that they are helping the state meet a crucial need and urged other men to become involved.
Belknap County Commissiones have included CASA in the outside agency request it has submitted and is asking for $5,000 for the organization.
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