The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program uses trained volunteers to serve as advocates for children as they navigate the courts and the foster care system.
Cecil County started the program in November with training for volunteers to be foster care advocates. Meanwhile, they’ve searched for an executive director.
“This is the perfect fit for me,” Hodge said Thursday as she prepared for her first day on the job Monday. “I’m very excited and I’m going to be working down the street from my old office.”
Hodge retired from Juvenile Services about six weeks ago, but knew she wanted to continue to follow her passion and transition from full-time employment. The new position is 24 hours a week.
Her new role will focus on recruitment of advocate volunteers and enlist in-kind support from the business community.
“My goal is to have one advocate for every child in the system,” she said.
“Today, there are roughly 200 children in Cecil County who have been removed from their homes as a result of abuse and neglect,” Maryland CASA Association certified nurse practitioner Patrick Seidl said.
Recruitment, training and supervising are all part of Hodge’s new job description. Her 32 years experience at DJS in a variety of jobs, such as resource specialist, case management specialist, administrative officer and coordinator of volunteer services gives her a strong background for the position.
Hodge said about six advocates have been screened and are ready for training next week.
“I’m happy that Cecil County saw the need and got a grant to support this program,” Hodge said. “We were one of only four counties in the state without it.”
Advocates are asked to make a one-year commitment to interact with an assigned child, or siblings, in Cecil County foster care in order to know them and understand their needs. The information is used to help the judge decide what is best for the child or set of siblings.
“We have to be the eyes and ears of the court,” Hodge noted. “I feel very good because I already have the support of all of the judges.”
Volunteers should make at least two contacts each month, but can do more. They must write reports to submit to the judge on certain dates. CASA volunteers need to be at least 21 years old and complete 30 to 40 hours of training.
More than 1,700 cases of suspected child abuse and neglect were reported in Cecil County in 2013. That’s an average of 148 incidents each month, according to Maryland Department of Human Resources.