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Editorial: Children’s voices heard through CASA volunteers

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Johnson County residents have a tremendous opportunity to help the lives of vulnerable children.

Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteers look out for the best interests of children who have been abused and neglected and help them navigate the court system.

Unfortunately, an increase in the number of children needing this help and a decrease in volunteers has created a long waiting list of children needing someone to stand up for them.

That’s significant because judges use recommendations by the volunteers to make decisions about the safety and welfare of the children while they are in foster care.

As Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo in neighboring Bartholomew County put it: “They provide me with a broad perspective of the child’s education, how they are emotionally and who are essential connections in the child’s life.”

Following their training, volunteers spend an average of 10 hours per month on their casework and are asked to commit to the completion of at least one case, which can take up to two years.

A typical case involves a Johnson County girl who lived in five foster homes over the course of a year. While she had five different sets of foster parents, plus attorneys and social workers, one adult remained the same — her CASA program volunteer.

He met with her at least once per month, keeping track not only of legal proceedings involving the girl but how she was doing in school and in her personal life.

The volunteer said the case shows the value of his role as a volunteer in the program — if he weren’t there to speak for that little girl, her wishes might never have been heard.

Children involved in neglect or abuse cases are the first priority, since an advocate is required by state law when the Department of Child Services files a case. Courts also may request an advocate in other cases, such as custody disputes or when parents are being held in jail for criminal charges.

Being a volunteer requires a commitment of some time, but what better way to donate your energy and talents?

Volunteers don’t need to be legal experts. They receive 30 hours of training and are assigned a staff case coordinator to assist them. What is needed is a desire to help vulnerable children at critical points in their lives. The help they receive now will shape them as adults. With volunteers looking out for the welfare of the children now, it increases the odds that their futures will be positive.

That benefits each child in need and the community.

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