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Wanted: men willing to play vital role in children's lives.

Byline: Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

Over a span of 12 years, Don Wilson has seen things that could shatter his faith in humankind: methamphetamine-addicted parents, alcoholic mothers, abusive fathers.

But Wilson keeps working with victimized children as a volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates because he knows his involvement may be the first positive male role model a child has had.

"In my experience, the person who most often is the source of the abuse ... is the male," Wilson said. "Men should recognize that these kids need to see that men are OK."

About 1,000 children in Lane County are involved in Department of Human Services cases and, for many, the trauma does not end at their removal from a dysfunctional situation. The majority go through the system - court cases, counseling, changing foster families, attending new schools - alone.

Volunteer advocates with CASA often serve as a stabilizing influence during DHS cases, which last an average of two years, Executive Director Megan Friese said. While every child in the system is supposed to have an advocate, there are only 85 CASAs, typically given one case each. Of those 85 volunteers, only 17 are men.

Recently, to try and raise male recruits, Friese teamed with the American Marketing Association Foundation, which formed focus groups to ultimately figure out how to draw more men to volunteer.

"Part of the reason we see less male participation is because people see CASA as being more of a nurturing role," Friese said. "It's really anything but that."

While providing a positive influence is an important part of being an advocate, it actually requires more MacGyver-like detective skills than the nurturing traits of Mother Teresa, Friese said.

Findings from the focus groups showed that the position's investigative- and solution-oriented aspects provided the greatest draw for men, said Derek Rodman of the American Marketing Association. The groups said it was a plus that advocates have access to all records involving a child's case, which they then use to make recommendations to the court and ensure that all of the child's needs are being met.

"Men liked that you were able to gather all that inside information, and when you report back, people listen," Rodman said. "They liked the idea of being a hero, and putting the child's interest before anyone else's."

Wilson, a 64-year-old retired professor of psychology at Lane Community College, has handled about 10 cases since completing the 40-hour training course more than 12 years ago. He estimates he spends about seven to 10 hours a month on his current two cases, much of which is spent on the phone.

But he also has dropped by a tavern around noon to make sure a mother wasn't inside drinking, and visited a home late at night to ensure that parents weren't using drugs.

"You need to do things that require some courage," he said. "Sometimes you're dealing with felony abusers and drug users. I have gone to a parent's home and the only time to catch them is 9 o'clock at night, and I've heard loud voices and banging."

Once he dealt with a father so addicted to meth that he lost his daughter, he said. Another time, he had to recommend that a child become a ward of the state, rather than go back to a self-destructive mother.

Yet, Wilson said, he focuses on the successes. The meth-addicted father was one of Wilson's first cases, and after losing his daughter temporarily, he managed to complete rehabilitation and retain custody.

"If you can see these cases be resolved with the help of the system - counseling, the Relief Nursery, rehab - when you see that work, and you see that bond maintained, and that you had a hand in that ... that's pretty rewarding."

To sign up for the January volunteer training course, call Viki Martz, 984-3132.
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Title Annotation:Courts; CASA seeks male volunteers to help kids who have been removed from their homes
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 25, 2006
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