New CASA director Shannon Lawson has a heart for children and vulnerable populations
Published 11:13 am Wednesday, July 5, 2023
With a career working with children and vulnerable community members, Shannon Lawson is a perfect fit as the new director of CASA.
Lawson officially stepped into the role as the new executive director of CASA of Troup County on June 20.
Lawson was born and raised in LaGrange. After graduating from Troup High, she moved away for college and began her career in education in the Gainesville area as a special education teacher by trade. She and her family moved back to LaGrange around 1997, where they have remained since.
She said she continued in special education with the Troup County School System, until her children began elementary school at Rosemont Elementary, when she began to work as a family liaison with parents and families of students.
Lawson said she continued that work for around a decade until she had the opportunity to work for the Substance Use Disorder Prevention Coalition with Twin Cedars in LaGrange.
“I loved it. It was community level work working with partners across the county to help make a better, healthier, well community which targeted, at the time, underage youth use,” Lawson said.
Lawson said she had done similar work for the past five years, working with the Council on Alcohol and Drugs and providing prevention services for the community of Thomaston and Upson County. She said the work there focused on prescription use disorder prevention.
She said she was later encouraged by mentors to seek out the CASA position when it became available, having been a longtime supporter of the program.
“Across my career spectrum, I guess I have always found myself being a champion of sorts for children and vulnerable populations. Whether it be children with exceptional needs, or just students vulnerable to substance use, now I find myself leading an agency that is the champion and the voice for children that are in really tough situations due to abuse and neglect,” Lawson said.
“It’s just a passion of mine to support community-level change to support healthy communities. This work will be even more intricate in that support and in the ways that we will be able to change children’s lives by supporting them through the process of foster care,” she said.
Lawson explained that Georgia CASA and national affiliates support the local CASA.
“In Georgia, every juvenile court circuit has a CASA that’s represented and ours represents the juvenile court here in Troup County,” Lawson said. “CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. When children experience abuse and neglect, they begin a court system process that’s very daunting. The judge in the jurisdictions, for instance Juvenile Court Judge Michael Key, may deem it necessary to appoint what we call a CASA volunteer. These volunteers are vetted and trained and are fully committed to supporting children through the court process and they serve as that child’s voice through all of those proceedings.”
Several entities are at the table during court proceedings but the CASA volunteer is strictly there for the child and to be that child’s advocate.
Lawson said the life of a child involved in these proceedings can be difficult. Sometimes a child could move to multiple foster care families just because of the county, state, and nation’s desperate need for viable, good foster care families who are willing to open up being vetted and open up their homes to children in need. Because that number is low, sometimes children have to shift around.
One of the ways that CASA helps children is by providing items they may need. Sometimes it’s clothing or hygiene times. Sometimes it’s a suitcase or a bookbag to make sure their personal belongings follow them as they have to go from place to place because that’s important, Lawson said.
“Being in this situation, oftentimes they’ve incurred a trauma, and oftentimes it could be re-traumatizing to the child. Judge Key does a fantastic effort of having trauma-informed care and making sure all parties are really considerate of that,” she said.
Lawson said part of her job is to be that liaison between the community and the work going on inside CASA and build partnerships.
“We’re always seeking fantastic people to want to give their time to be volunteers, and we can certainly talk you through that process. We’re also thankful throughout the year that LaGrange and Troup County is such a giving community,” Lawson said. “I’ve only got a few days into this job. I’m already seeing they’re giving hearts, people calling, getting geared up for back to school, making sure our children and care have back-to-school supplies and fresh clothing, and supporting those foster care families as they support the children. It’s just a sight to see. I’m excited about all the lovely work and partnerships we can make.”
For more information about CASA of Troup County and to learn ways to connect, visit their website at casaoftroupcounty.org.