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Beth Vitale

Posted on September 21, 2014

CASA for Kids of Geauga County

My summer internship with CASA for Kids of Geauga County, made possible though the generous Wellman Hill grant, was an enriching experience. CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a national non-profit organization that allocates volunteer guardians ad litem to represent the best interest of children involved in cases of abuse, neglect, and dependency. In Geauga County, CASA is an agency of the juvenile division of the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, so I had the opportunity to work in direct contact with the county judicial system.

As an intern, my time was split between administrative tasks and shadowing opportunities. The administrative projects I initiated focused on challenges to family law in Geauga County. For example, hoarding has become an issue for county law in Geauga, because the various city departments of health, housing, and zoning do not have consistent policies to address the issue. Hoarding is a situation that impacts a family because it creates an unsuitable housing situation for children, and requires the removal of a child from the home. With the CASA Program Director, Chris Steigerwald, I worked to organize a community taskforce that will begin discussing and improving policy challenges. I worked on similar projects concerning the heroin epidemic in Northeast, Ohio, and also about the youths who age out of the foster care system.

Additionally, I spent time meeting with the CASA volunteers to learn about their individual cases and observe their court hearings. These hearings and staff meetings were the most inspirational aspect of my internship because I was able to truly see and understand the impact of laws on the most intimate unit of society, families.

The other part of my internship was spent shadowing different agencies of the county government to learn about the various parts of the juvenile justice system. Mainly, I spent time at the Prosecutor’s Office and the Department of Jobs and Family Services. I shadowed two of the family division prosecutors and the juvenile prosecutor, and learned a bit about the criminal division as well. These individuals all serve a critical role in the community, and learning from the prosecutors taught me a great deal about how the justice system functions. I also shadowed social workers at the Department of Jobs and Family Services, and followed them out to home visits in the community. This was a truly eye-opening experience, because prior to my time with CASA I knew little about the social work profession.

During my summer with CASA I witnessed a great deal of hardship in families struggling through substance abuse and mental health challenges. I will never forget their heartbreaking stories. However, what remains with me most is the passionate commitment of each and every agency of the juvenile justice system to work with individuals, to attempt to reunite families, but most importantly, to provide a healthy and safe future for the children.

Overall, my internship with CASA surpassed my expectations, bringing to light a field of law of which I had previously little knowledge. The experience has reinforced my goal to attend law school and pursue a career in public service. I truly am grateful for Ms. Hill’s generosity. Without the Wellman Hill grant, this opportunity would not have been possible.

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