Making a Difference

Moving Forward Together
January 31, 2022
Shooting suspect arrested for Attempted Murder
January 31, 2022
Moving Forward Together
January 31, 2022
Shooting suspect arrested for Attempted Murder
January 31, 2022

Imagine being a child again. Through no fault of your own, you have been removed from the family that you know and have been placed by the state into foster care. You have new adults in your life to care for you, perhaps even new children in your home as siblings. People come in and out of your life: case workers, lawyers, your birth parents, your foster family, other children. Things can change in an instant. But there’s always the guarantee of one constant thing in your life: your CASA. 

Terrebonne’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program was created to assist children who are subject to court proceedings due to abuse, neglect and/or abandonment.  CASAs are trained volunteers who are appointed by a judge to provide one-on-one advocacy for a child who is under the jurisdiction of the court. The CASA is responsible for conducting an independent investigation, helping the court understand the needs of the child, ensuring that court-ordered services are being provided and making child-focused recommendations to the court based on the best interest of the child.

CASA of Terrebonne has accomplished a great deal since its inception over 20 years ago. The CASA program has given a voice to hundreds of children in the dependency court system. CASA of Terrebonne has trained hundreds of volunteers to advocate on behalf of children experiencing an intensely confusing and frightening time in their lives within a system that may be impersonal, slow and lacking the financial support needed to provide adequate care. CASA of Terrebonne’s goal is to raise awareness within the dependency system and the community of children’s unique needs, especially their need for services aimed at helping them live the healthiest life possible.


The National CASA program is celebrating 40 years in 2022. Founded by Superior Court Judge David Sokup of Seattle, Washington, the program began as a way to solve a recurring problem. 

 “In criminal and civil cases, even though there were always many different points of view, you walked out of the courthouse at the end of the day and you said, ‘I’ve done my best; I can live with the decisions’,” Judge Sokup states. “But when you’re involved with a child and you’re trying to decide what to do to facilitate that child’s growth into a mature and happy adult, you don’t feel like you have sufficient information to allow you to make the right decision.’Do I really know everything I should? Have I really been told all of the different things? Is this really right?’”

 To ensure he was getting all the facts and that the long-term welfare of each child was being represented, the Seattle judge came up with an idea that would change America’s judicial procedure and the lives of over a million children. He obtained funding to recruit and train community volunteers to step into courtrooms on behalf of the children: Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers.

This unique concept was implemented in Seattle as a pilot program in January 1977.  During that first year, the program provided 110 trained CASA volunteers for 498 children in 376 dependency cases. In 1978 the National Center of State Courts selected the Seattle program as “the best national example of citizen participation in the juvenile justice system.”

By 1982 it was clear that a national association was needed to direct CASA’s emerging national presence. The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association was formed that year. Today the National CASA Association represents 930 CASA programs across the country, including Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 


“There is such a need for the child’s voice to be heard,” shares Christine Aucoin, executive director of CASA of Terrebonne. “On a basic level, we pair up volunteers with foster kids. They get this one-on-one
relationship. We just get to know them so well. It’s important to make sure we get firsthand information. Ultimately the judge is going to decide, after getting the full picture, based on our observations, based on the case worker, based on the lawyer–all these different pieces of the puzzle help to form that decision.” 

The most inspiring part of the CASA organization is the volunteers, the CASAs themselves. These individuals are the ones who dedicate their time to making sure they represent their child and become their voice within the system. 

“I think the biggest thing that we represent for these kids is some semblance of normalcy,” explains Christine. “We make sure that even though they are not in their homes–they are in the state’s custody–their needs are being met. So whether it’s educational needs, medical needs, psychological needs – we’re looking for resources. Yes, they have a caseworker through the state, but sometimes those needs are not identified. We are able to form relationships with them that a case worker may not have time for.”

While the volunteers are not paid for their service or their time, the reward for many is seeing their case through to a happy ending and knowing you made a difference in a child’s life. 

“Our CASAs are the most selfless and dedicated individuals you will ever see,” shares Christine. “This is a long term commitment. Some of these cases may last 24 months; some of them may last five years. But our CASAs stay with their child through all of it.”

Even during the height of the Covid pandemic in Louisiana, CASAs continued to provide their children with the nurturing attention they desired. 

“We never stopped communicating with the children. Our CASA did drive-by visits where the volunteers would sit in the car, and the kids would stay on the porch,” explains Christine. “Those volunteers that were able to visit with those children, that really created a more positive relationship because their CASAs were still there. We were also able to keep an eye on those children to ensure they were doing well.” 


While it would be a dream come true to see every child in the system have a CASA by their side, that’s just not the reality we face in Terrebonne Parish. Over 200 children are currently in the foster care system locally. 

“Children continue to come into foster care, so that number really never minimizes,” shares Sulma Reyes, Training/Outreach Coordinator. “We unfortunately just don’t have the CASAs to put one with each child that we have on our waiting list. Our statistics for volunteers have gone down recently with Covid and Hurricane Ida, so not even half of the kids in foster care currently have a CASA.”

“We take people from all walks of life,” explains Christine. “They go through an application process and once they apply, we bring them in for an interview. I think the training kind of sets them up for success because they’re so different in so many ways. We have teachers, we have retired business owners. We have a  wide gamut of people and professions, it’s wanting to help, wanting to be a part of this community, to help these kids out.”

The staff at CASA is quick to address many of the concerns and reasons people may have regarding volunteering. 

“Often when we tell someone, ‘oh, you would be a great volunteer,’ their first response is ‘I don’t wanna get my heart broken.’,” shares  Anna Merlos, Marketing Coordinator. “They are concerned they would have to witness the abuse or violence.When a CASA gets to a child, the abuse has already happened. We’re moving forward; we’re on the healing path. And people think it takes a lot of time each month. While it is a long-term commitment, it’s truly only 10 to 15 hours a month. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s a lot of heart.”

“I often hear from people contemplating becoming a CASA that they don’t want to get too attached,” says Jenny Domangue, Lead Advocate Supervisor. “You’re going to get attached and you’re going to form those relationships. That’s where our good CASAs come from because you have an investment in that child. To say you’re not going to form a bond is completely incorrect thinking, because you will for the right reason. You are going to make a difference in the life of a child. Whether you see the fruit of that labor or not, you’re planting seeds. Someday those seeds will bloom, whether it’s in their childhood or into their adulthood. And to know that you’ve made a difference in that child’s life one way or another is just so fulfilling.”

The next training cycle for CASA of Terrebonne begins in January. Training classes are scheduled for Jan. 18, April 19, July 12 and Oct. 11. 

For more information or to sign-up to make a difference in a child’s life, visit their website at