Salem city councilor Vanessa Nordyke announced Tuesday she is the new executive director of CASA of Marion County.
She will remain serving on the city council, which is a volunteer, unpaid position, but left her position as an assistant attorney general with the Oregon Department of Justice after 14 years.
Nordyke said in her position with the DOJ, she handled hundreds of cases involving child sex abuse and domestic violence.
“Those cases had a huge, life-changing impact on how I saw the world,” Nordyke said. “Abuse and trauma are much more common than people realize. There is a huge need for advocating for kids.”
She said she felt compelled to apply for the position after the departure of the previous executive director, Shaney Starr, who accepted a position with the national nonprofit leading Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children.
Nordyke said Starr left big shoes to fill and looks forward to working with her predecessor going forward.
The nonprofit has worked for decades in the region to connect trained volunteers with children in the foster care and child welfare system to give them a voice in court.
More than 600 children in the county are victims of abuse and neglect, according to CASA statistics. To help the child through the underfunded and overburdened child welfare system, judges appoint community volunteers to advocate for them and prioritize the child’s needs. The volunteer dedicates themselves to following the child through the churn of the legal and child welfare systems, sometimes for years at a time.
This could include going to court, working with teachers, and spending quality time with the child on playdates or activities.
Advocates connect with doctors, family members, caseworkers and foster families in addition to meeting with the child every month. They report their findings back to the court explaining what they would believe is in the best interest of the child. They are expected to keep advocating for the child until the child is in a permanent home.
The future of CASA
Nordyke said she resigned from the DOJ after more than 14 years and Tuesday was her first day as executive director.
“I’m forever grateful to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and my entire DOJ family,” Nordyke said. “They made me the advocate I am today.”
She said she was honored to take a part in the important work CASA does for hundreds of children every year.
“In my new role at CASA of Marion County, I will carry out our mission to provide children with advocates dedicated to their safety and stability,” she said.
Reporter Whitney Woodworth covers city hall, economic development and business for the Statesman Journal. For questions, comments and news tips, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth.