With cases of child abuse and neglect in Bartholomew, Decatur, and Jennings counties at a record high, 12 individuals have stepped forward to guarantee that many of these children won't have to be alone during their time in the child protection system.
These volunteers just completed a six-week training course that qualifies them to serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA volunteers), and on Tuesday evening, they were sworn in by Bartholomew County Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo. Now they will serve as the eyes and ears of the court, making sure that the best interests of the children they serve remain front and center.
It's an important job.
"We know that children with a CASA volunteer have better outcomes in the court system," said Mollo. "We know that children with a CASA volunteer have better outcomes in school. Children with a CASA simply do better overall."
Janet Ward, Director of State Support for the National CASA Association was on hand to welcome the new volunteers. She let them know that they were part of a growing national organization, but that the need for volunteers was growing just as fast.
"You are now part of a network of over 87,000 CASA volunteers nationwide," Ward said. "who are serving 280,000 children. That represents the largest increases in the number of volunteers and children served in a decade. Unfortunately, that's still only about 50% of the children in need. That's why it's so important that we leave here today and spread the word. Each one of us reaches someone new."
According to Rick Scalf, Community Outreach Coordinator for Advocates for Children, the agency that oversees CASA volunteers in Bartholomew, Decatur, and Jennings counties, local service trends are slightly above the national average.
"Right now, we're reaching about three-quarters of the children in need," Scalf said. "By the end of June this year, Advocates for Children had served 754 local victims of child abuse and neglect, with more than 300 still on the waiting list. That tells me we can accomplish our goal of providing an advocate to every child who needs one, but only if our community embraces the responsibility we have to these vulnerable kids."
The next opportunity to do that is just under two weeks away. The next training session for volunteers begins July 24th. And while several volunteers have already signed up, there's plenty of room, according to Scalf.
"I want to encourage anyone who's ever given any consideration to doing this work to contact me. I'm happy to have a conversation and answer any questions you may have about the role of a CASA volunteer, the requirements for serving, and anything else that's on your mind."
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.