On Thursday evening, with their families proudly looking on, 9 newly trained Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers were sworn in by Bartholomew County Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo as officers of the court.
In their new role, these volunteers will work directly with area victims of child abuse and neglect, guaranteeing that their needs are met, that their best interests are front and center, and that they return as quickly as possible to a safe, loving and permanent environment.
Advocates for Children's Executive Director, Therese Miller, began by welcoming the new advocates and addressing their families.
"Thank you for lending us your loved ones," Miller said to the onlookers. "Their work will make a lifelong difference to the children they serve."
After Miller, Magistrate Mollo spoke to the CASA volunteers before administering their oaths.
"On behalf of the family court judges of the State of Indiana, thank you," Mollo said. "Compared with you, my time with these children is often formal and brief. You are the one who provides the critical detail. Thank you for your heart."
Exciting as the arrival of the new volunteers is, however, Advocates for Children is already looking ahead to the next training session. Rick Scalf, the agency's Community Outreach Coordinator, said a record number children being removed from their homes is putting more pressure on the system than ever, and increasing the importance of volunteers.
"The Department of Child services recently announce that 2015 is a record year for child abuse and neglect," Scalf said. "We've already doubled the rate of cases from 2014. With the child protection system under that kind of pressure, and each department's case load rising, it's more important than ever to have someone standing next to these children, making sure that they don't slip through the cracks."
Advocates for Children has seen increases in their waiting list in all three of the counties that they serve - Bartholomew, Decatur, and Jennings. The children on these lists have already been removed from their homes, but do not yet have an advocate speaking on their behalf.
Individuals interested in learning more about becoming a CASA volunteer or the upcoming training session are urged to call Advocates for Children at (812) 372-2808, or visit the agency online at apowerfulvoice.org.