Governor Mike Pence addressed a crowd of over 300 child advocates at the state capital, including 12 advocates from Bartholomew, Decatur and Jennings counties, and praised them for their work on behalf of Indiana's victims of child abuse and neglect. The governor touted the $2 million increase received this year by the state's Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) / Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program, but reminded the assembled volunteers that there was more than money to be offered to the state's most vulnerable children.
"It's not about dollars and cents, it's about each one of you," Pence said. "3,000 CASA volunteers in 78 Indiana counties that are making the kind of difference that can change lives. That's how we define success, not through dollars and cents and statistics, but through lives that can be helped through difficult challenges, mentored along the pathway to achieve their dreams, and to achieve our hopes for every one of them."
CASA volunteers serve as voices for children who have been removed from their homes after becoming the victims of child abuse and neglect. The volunteers represent the best interest of these children during their time in the child protections system, advocating for services and fighting to guarantee that the children are placed as quickly as possible in a safe, loving and permanent home.
Gov. Pence was joined on the stage by his mother, Nancy Pence-Fritsch, who served as a CASA volunteer from 2000 - 2004. During that time, she served as the advocate for 7 children.
"When the Chief Justice came to me and spoke to me about CASA when we were working on the budget," Pence joked, "I told her you don't have to sell me on CASA, because someone else has been selling me on CASA for a very long time."
The Governor also took the opportunity to speak to the ongoing rise in drug use that has affected communities throughout the state and put increased pressure on the child protective system, in large part due to a record number of children removed from their families in 2015.
"It's one of the reasons my administration is working so hard to come up alongside Hoosiers that are caught up in drug abuse and addiction," the Governor said, promising action to come in the next week.
"I want to assure you that even in this session [of the General Assembly]," Pence guaranteed, "we're going to pass measures to go even harder after people who are selling drugs and poisons to our kids. But as all of you know, better than me, we can't just arrest our way out of this problem. And in this session... we are expanding treatment opportunities so Hoosiers... can find remedies."
Individuals interested in learning more about the CASA program are encouraged to contact Advocates for Children, a non-profit organization which provides CASA volunteers for children in Bartholomew, Decatur and Jennings counties. Information can be found on the agency's website, apowerfulvoice.org, or by calling the agency's office at (877) 604-9402.