As the New Year begins, several local volunteers have resolved to commit their time to area children who have been the victims of abuse and neglect by joining a training program provided by Advocates for Children and becoming Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
CASA volunteers serve as a voice for these vulnerable children during their time in the child protection system and act as the eyes and ears of the courts, always making sure that the children’s best interests stay front and center.
One of the volunteers preparing to enter the class is Katie Howell, a local educator who has seen first-hand the impact a stable adult influence can have on a child’s life.
“I’ve worked with kids for a long time and you see so many kids in need of support,” Howell says. “You think about those kids who have a stable home, and you think about the ones who don’t have that advantage, and you can see the difference in them each day.”
Howell, who has taught Kindergarten at St. Bartholomew and Taylorsville Elementary Schools, has had many opportunities to see the impact of issues at home on the children in her classroom. But it was conversations with her father that ultimately convinced her to become a CASA volunteer.
“My Dad had always talked about [becoming a CASA volunteer] as something he would do if he were to retire,” Howell remembers. “So I started reading about the program, and I felt compelled to do it myself. I’m excited to get involved and see how I can affect these kids in a different way and help to set the tone for their future.”
Volunteers like Howell will be helping to tackle a substantial waiting list of children in need of advocates that grew in the wake of a record year of abuse and neglect cases.
“Last year we were proud to serve 647 children in Bartholomew, Decatur and Jennings counties,” said Advocates for Children Executive Director Therese Miller. “That represents a 23% increase over the number of children we reached in 2014. However, a massive spike in drug abuse, along with the usual contributors of poverty, poor support systems, and mental illness, has led more children than ever to be without a stable place to call home. Right now, we have 325 children who are ready to be assigned a CASA volunteer. That’s why it’s so important that people like Katie are stepping forward.”
The training for new CASA volunteers consists of 8 three hour sessions over the course of 4 weeks beginning on January 26th. Individuals interested in joining are encouraged to contact advocates for children by phone at (812) 372-2808, or by signing up online at apowerfulvoice.org/casa.