For three years, Debby Bates was what she calls the “extra set of eyes” for the court while serving as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer for Sequoyah County.
But just recently, Bates was rewarded for her services by being offered a paid position as a volunteer coordinator and will now be recruiting and training volunteers to serve as CASA volunteers for Sequoyah County.
“It's rewarding work and actually this week was my first week doing this,” she said. “I already had an idea of what I would be doing but I've always enjoyed being around the children so I'm thankful this came along,” she said.
Bates said her job as a volunteer was to visit with a child's biological parents and interview them, take care of counseling if needed, visit with foster parents and take care of any health or physical issues and “mainly just to make sure the child's best interest is taken care of,” she said.
Bates, a resident of Sequoyah County said her native home is Hawaii.
“My sister moved here through a friend and when I came to visit her then learned I had some friends I had gone to school with in California who were living in Fort Smith, Ark., made me decide to move here,” she said.
Being around children is nothing new to Bates. She has three children she has adopted through the Foster Care Program and one biological son.
“My adopted children were babies when I got them. They now range in ages 10 to12,” she said.
As a CASA volunteer, Bates said she had about four cases she worked for the three years she served in that capacity.
“One case can last anywhere from 12 to 18 months before the children are allowed to go back to their biological parent or adopted out. That's when our case is closed,” she said.
She said a CASA volunteer is not paid and the volunteer undergoes hours of training, screenings and interviews to be able to serve.
“We currently have about 191 volunteers in Sequoyah County but we're always needing more,” she said.
After Bates adopted her three children, she gave up the foster care program.
“I wanted to continue it but my kids would cry everytime we had one that had to leave us. So it got hard to do that. I just decided to become CASA volunteer. It was different from fostering but I still got to be around the children,” she said.