With the growing epidemic of Heroin and illicit narcotics leading to increasing instances of child abuse and neglect in Indiana, Advocates for Children is reporting a record number on their waiting list in need of volunteer assistance.
"Drowning in a sea of heroin"
"In more than 25 years of work in youth advocacy, I've never seen anything like this," said Advocates for Children's Executive Director, Therese Miller. "'It's like we're drowning in a sea of heroin, and these children are running out of life-boats."
Early last month, the Indiana Department of Child Services reported that it had served over 18,000 children in Indiana, an increase of 27 percent, and a record for the state. This growth in child abuse and neglect cases, fueled primarily by increased drug use in parents, has placed tremendous pressure on agencies such as Advocates for Childrenthat are tasked with protecting the rights of the children involved.
"It can be daunting," Miller acknowledged. "We need over 200 new volunteers to step forward in Bartholomew, Decatur, and Jennings County, just to serve the children who are waiting today."
"We don't read about the broken homes"
Part of the problem, says Rick Scalf, Community Outreach Coordinator for Advocates for Children, is that some of the biggest problems associated with drug abuse receive the least attention.
"We see stories everyday about drug-dealers being arrested and criminals being prosecuted," Scalf says, "but there are deeper societal costs that get far fewer headlines. We don't read about the the ruined careers and broken families, the domestic violence, or the emotional damage that occurs over years as these drugs take hold."
But while the stories of families crumbling may not be the stuff of banner headlines, the impact can be enormous.
"The children in these cases are at huge risk, through no fault of their own. They're more likely to lose education progress, more likely spend long periods of time in the child protection system, and more likely to find themselves in the criminal system in adulthood. That's why programs like Advocates for Children are so vital to our community - they can break the cycle."
The CASA Impact
Advocates for Children serves the children in these cases by recruiting and training Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, who work to keep the children's best interest front and center during their time in a child protection system.
"There's nothing like a CASA volunteer," said Miller, "nothing in the world. A child with one of these everyday heroes by their side is likely to do better in school, receive more services during their time in the child protection system, and they tend to spend far less time in that system. Most importantly, a child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to move quickly into the embrace of a safe, loving, and permanent home."
Last year, Advocates for Children supported the efforts 138 CASA volunteers. These advocates provided over 21,000 hours of service to more than 500 local children. But with the surge in cases, the agency is hopeful that more volunteers will step forward.
Each volunteer is provided with 36 hours of training before receiving their first case, in order to fully prepare them for the work of being an advocate. And they are supported throughout their service by a staff of CASA supervisors, who serve as resources to the CASA volunteer leading each case.
"We have volunteers from all walks of life," said Scalf. "The important thing is that you have a passion for standing up for these kids, and an earnest desire to improve their lives."
Individuals interested in learning more about Advocates for Children or joining an upcoming training session can sign up here, or call the office at (812) 372-2808.