PHOENIX (April 20, 2023) – When a child is removed from the only home they’ve known and placed in foster care, they are in dire need of someone who can not only be consistent in their life but also advocate for their best interests.
Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers make a commitment to advocate for children in court and provide insight to the judge who can make determinations that affect the child’s life in the long term. Currently, hundreds of children in Arizona are on a waitlist for a CASA volunteer.
“My entire adult life I’ve always worked with children and when I retired, I was looking for something to fill the void and to somehow pay it forward. After looking into what a CASA volunteer does and what it entailed, it seemed like a perfect fit,” said CASA volunteer and Rookie of the Year award recipient Shannon Karazuba. “I feel good that I’m part of a team like CASA of Maricopa County, who is always wanting the best for kids. I’m not only there to support the child but to be the judge’s eyes and ears to make sure the child is placed in the appropriate home. I think it’s very rewarding.”
During Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is observed in April every year, VOICES for CASA Children and CASA of Maricopa County will be recognizing six CASA volunteers who have dedicated their time and effort to making a difference for abused and neglected children. The program has been hosting annual events for over ten years for the CASA volunteers.
In Maricopa County, there are currently 650 CASA volunteers who make a time commitment of approximately 15 hours per month to visit with their assigned child and attend court hearings. Children in foster care tend to move placements and have multiple case managers but the CASA volunteer follows them throughout the case. CASA volunteers are expected to write a court report and update the court during hearings about anything that is happening in the case involving the child.
The following list includes this year’s CASA volunteer award recipients:
Rookie of the Year Awards
Shannon Karazuba - Shannon shows much dedication and passion in her advocacy efforts for the children she is assigned. Since becoming certified at the end of 2021, Shannon has worked four (4) cases, advocating for a total of eight (8) children and has helped guide some of those cases to successful closures. Shannon often takes advantage of the ongoing training offered to CASA volunteers and shows a deep desire to do what is in the best interest of each child.
Erin Paradis - Certified in 2022, Erin exemplifies all the positive attributes the CASA program strives to emphasize. She serves on two cases, advocating for two youth. Erin has dedicated over 110+ hours to her cases in less than a year, finding a balance between being a consistent mentor and determined advocate.
Outstanding CASA of the Year Award
Jeffrey Brown - Jeffrey has been a CASA volunteer for three (3) years and has proven to be one that does not shy away from a challenge. He has remained consistent for the children he serves through placement changes, transitions with new professionals on the team, and continues to follow the children and their cases to provide best interest advocacy.
Cathryn (Tina) Pernik -Tina has been a CASA for two+ years. Her work as a CASA has been remarkable as she has been an involved CASA volunteer, making lasting impressions on the children she serves. Tina works tremendously well with other team members and legal parties assigned to the case. The program has received positive feedback from those working with her in her CASA role.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Eileen Mitchell - Eileen has been a CASA for over 10+ years, serving thousands of hours as a volunteer advocate. She has worked with many of the program’s Coordinators throughout the years, helping guide and support them herself. Eileen has served several children, dedicating almost four (4) years to just one of those cases during her time with CASA and following the children no matter where they may be moved to throughout the valley.
Elizabeth (Betty) Miller - Betty has been a CASA since 2012 and has spent thousands of hours advocating for 20+ children during her time with the program. Betty not only advocates for her assigned CASA children, but she also works closely with attorney groups to make positive improvements in the child welfare system. Betty is not afraid to stand up for what is best for the children she serves and has shown to be a great asset to the CASA of Maricopa County program.
To become a CASA volunteer a person has to:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Complete all necessary background checks
- Be willing to dedicate their time and follow a case until it is closed
- Complete 30 hours of pre-service training
“I really love the kids. I love interacting with the children and sometimes there’s not enough time, but I think being able to support the child or see the environment that they’re in helps to support the court in either reunification, adoption or whatever the case plan may be for that child,” said Karazuba.
For more information about how to become a CASA volunteer in Maricopa County visit: www.maricopaCASA.org or call (602)506-4083.
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The Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County is comprised of Superior Court, Adult Probation and Juvenile Probation, which includes juvenile detention. The Judicial Branch in Maricopa County is the fourth largest trial court system in the nation and, along with its 3,200 employees, is dedicated to providing a safe, fair and impartial forum for resolving disputes, enhancing access to services, and providing innovative, evidence-based practices that improve the safety of the community and ensure the public’s trust and confidence in the Judicial Branch. For more information, visit www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov.
Clara Colmenero, Judicial Branch of Arizona, PIO
Lisa Hitchens, CASA of Maricopa County, Development Coordinator