Child advocate group to hold training sessions in June

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Eastern Panhandle will soon be holding a volunteer training session at our Martinsburg office.

The two-week training session begins Monday, June 5, and concludes Thursday, June 15.

Classes will be held Monday through Thursday for both weeks, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. There is no cost to the training. CASA staff members will lead the in-person sessions.

CASA volunteers are appointed by a court to advocate for the best interest of children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Volunteers are regular people from all walks of life.

Working since 2003, CASA volunteers and advocates in the Eastern Panhandle have played a vital role in caring for children and families experiencing traumatic hardships. The nation’s foster care system has long relied on these volunteers, and will continue to, as long as children need their help.

There are nearly 600 children in the Eastern Panhandle before the courts in the foster care system.

Dave Mulvihill, Volunteer Supervisor for the CASA of the Eastern Panhandle, first got involved with the organization about 10 years ago. After seeing an ad in the local newspaper about foster care children needing an advocate, Mulvihill took the training courses, and was soon helping kids.

He described his work early on as “hard, but fulfilling.” Abuse, neglect, and the legal system deeply affect these children and families. It’s a CASA volunteer’s role to be the person who is always there to help them.

“When you’re a CASA volunteer, you’re another person trying to make it a little bit better for these kids,” Mulvihill said. “CASA goes with them everywhere they go. That’s the one adult in their life who is there for them”

Volunteers work with legal and child welfare professionals, educators and service providers to ensure judges in these cases have all the information they need to make the most well-informed decisions for each child.

During training, Mulvihill said people will learn the legal process of child welfare cases, as well as the education needed to care for children and guardians involved in cases.

Mulvihill said he tries to convey families’ experiences, relaying the sensitivity needed for understanding the damage and trauma these kids have gone through.

“It’s a difficult volunteer role – I think people should know that going in,” Mulvihill said.

“You have to recognize that success, in many cases, is going to be incremental,” he said, “but it’s going to matter.”

Mulvihill considers model volunteers as mature people that possess critical thinking skills and exercise good judgment. He expressed a need for male volunteers, Black volunteers and other volunteers of color, to ensure there are advocates matching the diversity of the children in the foster care system.

Heather Kahsay has recently joined CASA as a volunteer, first coming along while looking for volunteer opportunities in school.

Having loved her work so far, Kahsay said she decided to keep volunteering. She was initially worried about learning the court process, and not knowing how to even begin working a case, but those concerns faded after the training and her first cases.

She has stayed doing the work to advocate for foster care children, who for most of their lives, have not had a chance to develop loving, positive, and healthy relationships.

“It’s an opportunity to at least provide a break in the chain of a statistical disadvantage,” Kahsay said.

For more information on the upcoming training, or for more information on CASA of the Eastern Panhandle, email, or call 304-263-5100.

Additionally, for those who cannot make an in-person training, there is a self-guided online training session available for prospective volunteers. Visit CASA-EP’s website for more information.