7 volunteers took the final step in becoming advocates for local victims of child abuse and neglect on Monday evening.
At the Bartholomew County Courthouse, Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo led these volunteers in the oath that officially made them Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs).
"Thank you for your willingness to take on the difficult task of being involved in the lives of people who may not, at first, understand why your presence is needed..." Mollo said to the volunteers, before swearing them in as officers of the court. "Your dedication, passion and commitment are a great benefit to our community."
As CASA volunteers, these individuals will promote the best interest of children who have been removed from unsafe homes during those children's time in the child protection system. Because of the presence of an advocate, studies have shown that these children are more likely to perform well in school and with their peers, receive more services during their time in the child protection system, and exit that system more swiftly.
Children with a CASA volunteer have also been shown to be half as likely to re-enter the system once they've left it and are less likely to encounter the criminal justice system later in life, resulting not only in a direct benefit to the children themselves, but to the community as a whole.
Also on hand was Janet Ward, Midwest Program Officer for National CASA, who reminded these volunteers that they are now a part of a movement. "I hope that you'll think not only of the very important work you are each doing," Ward said, "but of the ways in which you are now a part of something much bigger than yourselves. From coast to coast, each day, thousands of CASA volunteers are working to improve the outcomes of our children."
Nearly 77,000 CASA volunteers nationwide help change children's lives every day. Last year alone, those volunteers served more than 250,000 children.
Locally, Advocates for Children, the agency coordinating CASA volunteers in Bartholomew, Decatur, and Jennings counties, served 841 abused and neglected children. That's a new record for the agency. But with 305 additional children on the waiting list, they're focused on the future.
"We're so proud of the work our advocates have accomplished over the last year," said Rick Scalf, Community Outreach Coordinator, "but we aren't satisfied. Our goal is to provide an advocate for every single child who needs one, and there's still work to be done."
Advocates for Children is currently taking applications for a new training class to be held in April. The upcoming class will be held during daytime hours, three days a week, to provide an opportunity for those who are interested but may have conflicts with an evening class.
"We've had several requests for a daytime training session," said Scalf, "so we've worked to make that happen. Our goal is to be as responsive as possible to the needs of our volunteers. So if you've been thinking about becoming a CASA volunteer, but the evening classes are an obstacle, this is your chance."
Individuals interested in learning more about the the upcoming training session, can sign up online or call the office at (877) 604-9402.