Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush addressed the more than 300 child advocates filling the statehouse on Monday, March 9th to raise awareness for the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. The Chief Justice, who served as a juvenile court judge in Tippecanoe County, where she helped start the local CASA program, praised the work being done by advocates across the state and recollected her own work with local volunteers.
"One of my favorite days as a judge was swearing in the CASA volunteers," Rush said. "We'd do the wave, literally do the wave, and I felt like we were putting new players on the field."
But the rising pressure being put on CASA programs and Indiana's child protection system by the mounting number of children being removed from their home amid epidemic of drug addiction that is currently plaguing the state.
"What's keeping me up at night is the 5,000 kids without a volunteer," Rush said. "The direct cause for increased removal, over half of them, is parental substance abuse. We have children being removed from homes where there's meth a meth lab testing positive for meth, so there's a lot of work to be done."
The Chief Justice described the plight of these children, who are unable to remove their personal belongings from the toxic environments. These children "can't even take their blanky," she observed.
In these scenarios, it's easy to discount the parents entirely, but Rush cautioned against that instinct, in order to advance the children's best interests. "It's not only the work with regard to taking care of the kids," Rush pointed out. "It's addictions treatments for the parents that has to be done."
The impact of the CASA volunteer is unique in the lives of child abuse and neglect victims, and often powerful.
"My CASAs are constantly sharing with me the greatness of the kids that arise from what happens to them with resilience and hope," Rush mused, "and they only have that hope because of people like you giving them that hope in a time of hopelessness."