In being named State Director of the Kansas Division of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), Caitlyn Eakin of Great Bend finds a chance to be a voice for children who often do not have a voice of their own in the court system.
Eakin accepted the offer to become the state director of Kansas CASA at the beginning of April. She previously held the executive director’s position with Central Kansas CASA, which covers the Kansas 20th Judicial District, encompassing Russell, Barton, Stafford, Rice and Ellsworth counties. She was initially named to that position in May 2015.
Getting into a life’s work
Eakin is a Macksville native and a 2010 graduate of Macksville High School.
After graduating from Fort Hays State University with a business degree, Eakin said she initially wanted to work in business. With that in mind, she began her professional life working at a bank, then spent time as a local manager for Elder Care in Great Bend. During that time, she took accounting classes at Barton Community College and quickly fell in love with that work.
Though she enjoyed working in business, Eakin said she quickly grew dissatisfied with simply working with numbers all day, and missed working with people. She was looking for opportunities to give back to the community through her work. So she said she sought God’s direction though prayer and asked Him to open the right doors for her to make a difference.
A coworker at Elder Care told her about the position with Central Kansas CASA in Great Bend, so she began researching the position and CASA’s work, and was immediately drawn to the opportunities to make a difference the work offered.
“It hit all the marks on the checklist,” Eakin said. “CASA really gave me that piece for kids, and for giving back, and for growing a better world, and had the business management piece as well.”
With CASA, she said, she discovered a life’s work.
“Going to work every day knowing that I am helping change lives and make the community better by working with families and children, advocating for children and what their best interests are, that’s a very good feeling,” Eakin said.
Stepping into her new role as state director, Eakin sees opportunities for increased awareness and education. That process begins, she said, by increasing the organization’s visibility in the state.
“I hear people say, ‘I wish there was something I could do where I live,’” Eakin said. “I want to show them there’s absolutely something you can do.”
She sees a lot of room for CASA to grow. Currently, CASA has 22 local offices which cover 23 of the state’s 31 judicial districts (one office covers both the 2nd and 21st Judicial Districts). One of her goals is to help take the organization into some of the districts CASA does not currently serve.
Though the state organization is based in Topeka, Eakin will continue to be based in Great Bend. However, she will travel to Topeka as needed, as well as traveling to each of the local CASA offices to meet with the CASA directors across the state.
“(I want to) find out what their strengths are, what their needs are, how the state (CASA) can better help with recruitment and volunteer training, because without the volunteers, we can’t serve kids,” Eakin said.
Being married and a mother of two kids of her own, Eakin said she hopes her work serves as a model for her own kids on the importance of giving back to the community and working to make a difference.
About Central Kansas CASA
CASA is a volunteer-based organization that began in Seattle, Wash., in 1977.
A local judge, David Soukup, grew concerned over making decisions regarding children experiencing abuse or neglect with little to no background knowledge of the children or the situations from which they were coming.
Soukup developed a coalition of volunteers to serve as advocates (CASAs) for the children in the court system. The goal, Eakin said, is for advocates to get to know the children and their families, and work with other professionals involved in the child’s life such as caseworkers, doctors, therapists and attorneys, and produce a comprehensive court report based on their findings and observations. CASAs also make recommendations based on those findings.
“They really bring that child into the courtroom, and make (the child) very real to all involved,” she said. “(CASA) can really provide that one-on-one personalized involvement and resource to the child.”
Because a courtroom environment can often feel scary and intimidating for children, Eakin said, CASA workers serve as a both a voice and a support system for the children in the court system, to make sure a child’s best interest is being considered when decisions are being rendered.
The organization is still completely volunteer based, she said, and potential CASA volunteers undergo rigorous background checks as well as going through 30 hours of training by a trained facilitator.
For those interested in becoming volunteers, Eakin said it is some of the most rewarding work a person can do.
“(CASA) will provide all the things you need to become a volunteer, and you can help change lives, as well,” she said.
For more information on becoming a volunteer, the Central Kansas CASA office can be reached at 620-792-5544.