‘Big hearts’ help court services volunteers face challenges

By Eric Butler

Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series of United Way agency profiles scheduled for publication each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday through Nov. 21.

The organization’s name doesn’t tell the whole story of Family and Children’s Court Services in Clovis.
Yes, advocates from the group often are called upon to tell, in court, about a child’s circumstances and suggest a course of action.
But workers with Family and Children’s Court Services base their evaluations upon multiple visits with children outside of the courtroom.
One of the programs that enables this kind of interaction is known as CASA, short for Court-Appointed Special Advocates.
“The CASA program specifically works with children in their placement at a foster home or we can go visit them at their school or, if younger, at their day-care provider,” said Marsha Gilliland, director of programs with Family and Children’s Court Services.
“We sometimes observe them visiting with their biological parents in a supervised setting,” Gilliland said. “We compile information and gather facts, review facts, interview people. Then we write a report and file it with the court and then appear at each hearing involved with that child.”
Family and Children’s Court Services in Clovis has 70 cases, involving 125 children. Crista Shaw is the coordinator of the supervised visitation program and also volunteers as an advocate for CASA — one of 27 volunteers for that group.
Shaw said supervising a visit between a child and a parent, one who does not have legal custody, can be a difficult task.
“We’re here in the room with the non-custodial parent and the kids. Sometimes it’s tough, because the kids are sad because they can’t see mom or dad all the time and that this is just an hour,” said Shaw.
Shaw said the visit supervisor sometimes has to keep certain topics of conversation from taking place.
“It’s hard. It’s hard for all of them. And it’s really emotionally taxing,” Shaw said.
Other programs operated by Family and Children’s Court Services include custody education courses and conduct mediation.
Asked why people like Shaw take up extra volunteer work in an area as challenging as this, Gilliland said simply … they have a “big heart.”
“It is rewarding internally,” Gilliland said. “It’s very rewarding to see a child get a safe, permanent home.”

Family and Children’s Court Services

Address: 708 Mitchell, Clovis
Phone: 769-2656
Mission: To speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children who are involved in the juvenile courts and to promote and support quality, volunteer advocacy to help assure each child a safe, permanent, nurturing home.
Number of board members: Eight
Estimated annual operating budget: $125,000
Approximate amount contributed by United Way: Six percent