After a nationwide search, CASA of the Heartland picked someone close to home to take the role of its executive director.

Eliza­beth­town resident Norma Hatfield has been selected for the position.

Hatfield, 57, has been an advocate for abused and neglected children for about five years and is widely known around the state as an advocate for Kinship Care. Hatfield said she brings five years of advocacy experience and three decades of government knowledge to the job.

“My advocacy journey began after getting custody of my two grandchildren. Watching the system work, I wanted to learn more about that system and what was happening across the state. I began meeting with many grandparents and great-grandparents and other caregivers who were raising their grandchildren and needed more support – they needed Kinship Care,” she said in an email.

Hatfield worked closely with state Sen. Dennis Parrett for reinstatement of kinship care, a state program which financially helps family members thrust into parental roles. It’s less costly to the state and generally considered a more effective setting for children than foster care.

Hatfield is president of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky and a member of the Grand Voice Network with Generations United representing Kentucky.

Over time, she has been asked to speak at state and national events. She also has worked with many legislators in Frankfort on other legislative changes. She testified last March on a bill focused on a placement benefit when children are first placed with relatives after being removed from their homes.

“My passion is to help neglected and abused children. Kentucky has the highest rate of child abuse in the nation,” she said. “Over the years with my advocacy, I’ve met so many families struggling and I wanted to do more. CASA is definitely a way to directly help kids. CASA is the eyes, ears and voice for these children and I wanted to be a part of that right here in our own community.”

Hatfield took the CASA volunteer training and, after much prayer, she said she felt God leading her to apply for the executive director position.

“I feel I bring a unique perspective because I know what it’s like to navigate the system personally and I know the personal stories of many foster and kinship caregivers around Kentucky,” she said.

Hatfield said CASA of the Heartland has 45 active volunteers who help around 108 children in Hardin County and the Fort Knox area. There are about 93 children on a waiting list for a trained volunteer advocate who would look out for their interests in the court system.

“My goal as executive director is to share what CASA does and help the organization grow so that we can help every single child in our community who needs it,” she said. “I don’t look at this as a job – it’s an honor to serve those vulnerable children who need us the most.”

Through her work, Hatfield has been the recipient of several awards to include Kentucky Youth Advocates’ Champ­ion for Children and Courage for Children.

“Kentucky continues to be ranked first for the highest number of child abuse cases in the country,” Hatfield said in a release issued by the organization. “As those numbers continue to escalate, we need more people to step up and help where they can.”

Hatfield succeeds Debbie Smith, who retired in December as executive director after nearly 11 years working with the organization.

“We are very excited to have Norma joining CASA of the Heartland,” Board Chairman Grant Niebuhr said in the release. “Her proven track record of leadership and advocacy will serve the organization well as we continue our mission to serve the children of Hardin County.”

Interim Director Natalie Cubbage will continue leading the organization until Hatfield begins work Aug. 3.

If anyone is interested in being a volunteer, virtual training is scheduled for June 30-July 28. For information go to casaheartland.org or call the CASA office at 270-982-2274.

Mary Alford can be reached 270-505-1741 or malford@thenewsenterprise.com.

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