As Advocates for Children continues to work to provide advocates for a record number of children suffering abuse and neglect, 8 new volunteers have stepped forward to take up the cause in Bartholomew and Jennings counties.
Having completed a six-week training course that qualifies them to serve as Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, these community members were sworn in by Bartholomew County Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo on Tuesday evening. In their new role, these advocates will guarantee that the best interests of the children they serve remain front and center when their cases come before judges like Mollo.
But their work doesn't begin or end in the courtroom.
"I want to thank you for the work you do on behalf of these children," Mollo said to the volunteers before leading them in their oath. "Not only in court, but in our community, across our state, and to members of our legislatures, you are their voice. And that voice makes a difference."
How big of a difference?
"It's profound," said Rick Scalf, Community Outreach Coordinator for Advocates for Children. "When a child has an advocate, the impact can be life defining. These children tend to do better with their peers, improve their interactions with their peers, and have better access to vital services during their time in the child protection system. Most importantly, having an advocate gives these children the best chance to move as quickly as possible into a permanent family setting."
The September 2017 class of CASA volunteers
Pictured L-R: Lisa Prentiss, Avril Schutte, Elizabeth Holzhausen, Neile McQueen, Shelby Earnhart, Matthew Thompson, Eric Joslin.
With the number of child abuse and neglect cases surging across the State of Indiana, the task of reaching every child can be daunting. But volunteers like the ones sworn in on Tuesday give her hope, said Advocates for Children Executive Director Therese Miller.
"By the halfway point of this year, we had already served 765 children," Miller said. "That's more children than we reached in the first three quarters of last year. So even as the number of children entering the system continues to grow, we're impressed by volunteers like these, who step up and say they're not going to let those kids go it alone."
But with another 300 children waiting for advocates, Miller said the community needs to continue to commit themselves.
"We have to remember that these are the most vulnerable members of our society," she said, "and these are some of the most difficult times of their lives. They shouldn't have to go through it alone."
There will be one more opportunity to join the CASA program this year, as Advocates for Children prepares for the final training session of the year, beginning September 26th.
"If you've ever read a story about an abused or neglected child and wished there was something you could do, this is your chance," said Scalf. "I encourage anyone with an interest to contact me. I'm happy to answer any questions about the program and help get you ready for our next class. This is an opportunity to make a difference that will last for generations.
Anyone interested in joining the next training session for CASA volunteers can reach Advocates for Children at (812) 372-2808 or toll-free (877) 604-9402. More information can also be found online at apowerfulvoice.org.