"It's been a record year for Advocates for Children," says the agency's Community Outreach Coordinator, Rick Scalf. "Our advocates are serving more children than ever before. We've already reached 654 children in 2016; that's only 16 fewer kids than we served in all of last year."
Advocates for Children recruits, trains and supports Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers in Bartholomew, Decatur and Jennings counties. These volunteers work with children who have been removed from their homes after becoming the victims of child abuse and neglect, making sure that the children's best interest remains front and center during their time in the child protection system. That's been a big job lately.
"Unfortunately, the number of children we've served hasn't been our only record this year," said Scalf. "We continue to see more and more children entering the system, often after their parents fall victim to addictions and related issues. And full as it with committed, caring and well-intentioned people, it's still just a system. It's simply ill-suited to guarantee that these children's needs are always at the forefront."
The result of the increase in cases has been an increased waiting list for Advocates for Children, which currently tops 300 children in the three counties the agency serves.
That leaves the children without an advocate says Therese Miller, the agency's Executive Director.
"The impact a CASA volunteer can have is profound," said Miller. "A child with an advocate is more likely to do well socially and in school. They are likely to receive more services while they're in the child protection system, they spend less time in that system overall, and once they've left it they're half as likely to return. Unfortunately, right now some children are going years without the hope that only an advocate can provide."
The solution? More volunteers.
That's why Advocates for Children will be holding a training class for new CASA volunteers beginning August 16th.
"The people who sign up to work with these children are everyday heroes," said Scalf. "They come from all walks of life; all ages and backgrounds. They're united by a common desire to do what's right by the child."
The training session lasts for six weeks, and is comprised of two three-hour classes each week. Participants will learn the ins and outs of cases, be taught how to file a court report, and meet with several local agencies in order to get key perspectives. At the end, they are prepared to act as the voice of the children they serve.
Individuals interested joining the upcoming class and becoming a part of the CASA program are encouraged to sign up online or to call the office at (877) 604-9402.