Rise in heroin usage creates need for more volunteers to help kids

Cary Ashby • Feb 23, 2014 at 10:07 AM

The CASA program at Huron County Juvenile Court handled 85 abused, neglected and dependent (DNA) cases last year and of those cases, 41 were directly related to heroin.

"Parents or caregivers were using," program director Mary Ann Lamb said.

Of the 44 non-heroin-related DNA cases, 19 cases related to the abuse of a substance other than heroin, such as alcohol or marijuana, she said. The remaining 25 cases had no apparent connection to substance abuse.

Five of the children in the 41 heroin-related cases were born addicted to the drug, Lamb said. There were three such incidents the previous year.

"That means within hours of being born, they showed signs of withdrawal. The babies have to be medicated -- sometimes for months -- to get back to normal," said Lamb, who started seeing a significant rise in heroin usage in this area about eight years ago.

With the rise of local, heroin-related DNA cases, Lamb said she has a bigger need for CASA volunteers. In 2013, there were 17 volunteers and this year, that number is down to 12.

"Ideally, I could use up to 30 volunteers. I've never had that many," Lamb said.

CASA stands for court-appointed special guardians. The Huron County program started in 1989 under the late Judge Thomas E. Heydinger. CASA began locally because the state of Ohio ruled that any child in a DNA case has to have a court advocate.

"The sprout of it started in the 1970s in Seattle, Washington," Lamb said. "About half of the Ohio counties do the CASA model like we do."

Since there usually are more cases than there are CASA volunteers, Lamb handles any cases that aren't assigned. She averages 30 to 40 cases annually.

"A case is a child. A family could have five children and I call that five cases," Lamb explained.

A CASA volunteer is a member of the community who undergoes about 30 hours of training.

"Once they are appointed to that child, they are guardians ad litem, which really is guardian of the case. They are the guardians of the case while the case is pending," Lamb said.

Volunteers must be at least 21 years old and have their high-school diploma or GED. The person also must pass screens related to the FBI, sex offenders and Sacwis, a database about children.

A CASA volunteer does what Lamb refers to as the "necessary leg work" in a case. That includes attending various hearings and gathering enough information to make a recommendation to the judge about the child's best interest. The first report given to the court covers about three months of investigation.

"They put together a report every six months until that case is done. ... Writing and speaking skills are very important," Lamb said.

Lamb was asked what characteristics a person needs to be an effective CASA volunteer.

"A person who can't not do something for children," was her immediate response.

"They are drawn to services or agencies who work with children," Lamb added. "You've got to have courage; you have to have a spine."

An effective volunteer has good "people skills" and isn't afraid to go into a stranger's home.

"You have to build a rapport with children and parents," Lamb said. "If you have that package, you're made for CASA."

For further information and to obtain an information packet, call Lamb at (419) 663-2525 ext. 235.

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