When it comes to fighting for the rights of society’s most vulnerable, Judge Susan Dobrich almost never takes a break.
Be it from her courtroom in Cassopolis or while serving on committees or organizations throughout the state of Michigan, the Cass County probate judge is a tireless ambassador for the rights of children living in foster care — and of virtues of those citizens who fight on their behalf.
Earlier this month, the Dowagiac woman was recognized for her decades of support to this cause, receiving the Michigan CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Judge of the Year award at the organization’s annual meeting, which took place in Muskegon from Nov. 6-7. It was the first time that Dobrich had won award, which is awarded to judges who demonstrate leadership and innovation in promoting CASA, in both the legal world and to the public at large.
“I don’t believe there’s another judge that promotes CASA as much as her, whether she’s in Lansing, Detroit or here in Cass County,” said Cass County CASA Director Jim Ward, who nominated Dobrich for the award. “She never passes up an opportunity to promote CASA advocates or programs.”
The judge established the Cass County CASA in 1995, as one way to improve the welfare of the county’s children who have been placed in foster care. Volunteers are trained to serve as special court-appointed advocates for these children, learning as much as they can about the child they are assigned in order to serve as their representative in custody proceedings.
“Some of our kids don’t have the chance to be adopted, so our CASAs step in to develop that long-term relationship with them,” Dobrich said.
Once the home of the earliest CASA organizations in the state, today Cass County is one of 27 programs located in counties across Michigan. There are currently 20 CASA volunteers serving an average of 50 children every year.
While appointed to serve on their behalf in court, many volunteers wind up serving as a mentor, friend or even surrogate family member for their child, Judge Dobrich said. For these volunteers, witnessing the growth of their wards is often the most rewarding part of the job, Dobrich said.
“When they have that connection with the child, and see that difference they’ve made, it’s pretty huge,” Dobrich said.
If you are interested in learning more about being a volunteer advocate or a board member, contact Ward at (269) 445-4431, or firstname.lastname@example.org.