Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

January 14, 2014

CASA volunteers sought to help children

Diane Raver The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — The Franklin County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program was formed in 2013. Aimee Reese was named its director.

The program in the county began in 1978 “when then Franklin County Circuit Judge Gene Stewart asked Tri Kappa Sorority (members) to become CASA volunteers,” the Brookville resident reports.

“At that time, CASA programs were not required to be certified through the Indiana State Supreme Court. Several sorority members, including Delores Dobbs, went through the training and became volunteers. However, for the last dozen years, Mrs. Dobbs has been the only CASA volunteer in the county. After more than 30 years of protecting kids, she retired Dec. 31.

“We obtained our Indiana State Office of Guardian ad Litem/CASA Certificate and have our provisional National CASA Association Membership. The Franklin County CASA program officially began advocating for abused and/or neglected children Jan. 1.

“CASAs are volunteers who are appointed by judges in child abuse and neglect cases to research the case, review documents, interview people and make a report to the court as to what is in the best interest of abused and/or neglected children in terms of services, placement, visitation, reunification and permanency. CASA volunteers are typically the only voice for children in these cases as Indiana law doesn’t require an attorney to be appointed for children in CHINS (Child In Need of Services) cases.

“CASA volunteers ... are objective, community volunteers who are not part of the child welfare system, who focus their efforts solely on gathering information and making recommendations regarding the children ... who would otherwise have no voice. CASA volunteers have a completely different role than the Department of Child Services case manager in that their primary focus is not working with the parents to resolve their issues; instead, the CASA volunteer focuses solely on the needs and wishes of the child while they are in foster care and for permanency.”

Reese points out, “As the director, I am ultimately responsible for the overall management of the program and all aspects of its operations. This primarily involves the supervision and coordination of a volunteer service program that provides CASA services to abused and neglected children. My responsibilities include community and public relations, program planning, personnel management, volunteer screening/training/oversight and fiscal management.

“Above all, the reason I was attracted to this position is my love and compassion for children. My husband and I have two biological children and three adopted children. But for the past seven years, our house has been ‘home’ to 27 foster children. During this time, CASA volunteer Delores Dobbs would often visit to meet with these children. She mentioned that she was thinking about retiring and thought I might be a good person to take over the CASA program. I mentioned to Judge Steven Cox, who administers it, that I was interested in developing a local program and to let me know when he was ready to put one in place.”

She stresses, “In our society the basic needs and rights of children are entrusted to their families, but when the family – for whatever reason – is unable to meet those obligations, our most vulnerable children are placed in the foster care system. As a former foster child, my desire to protect the rights of abused and neglected children came naturally. I am fortunate. My foster care experience was positive, and to this day I still have the ongoing love and support of my foster mom.

“A CASA volunteer is a trained child advocate sworn in by the court to represent the best interests of children who are abused and neglected and are active cases in the court system .... (He or she) investigates the child’s circumstances, provides fact-based information and makes recommendations to the court while becoming a source of support for the child .... (and) maintains regular, in-person contact with” him or her.

This person “is often the only constant the child knows as he or she moves through the labyrinth of the child welfare system. The CASA volunteer’s ultimate goal is to move the child out of temporary placement, usually in the foster care system, into a safe and permanent home. This could mean return to the parent’s care, adoption, appointment of a legal guardian or some other permanent living arrangement that satisfies the court and fulfills the child’s needs.”

Volunteers typically have one to three cases so they have time to get to know the child and his or her needs and are in a good position to make recommendations for him or her. “We are currently recruiting, and we need 10-12 additional volunteers. It is our goal to have a CASA volunteer appointed to every abused and/or neglected child in 2014,” Reese reveals.

“Volunteers are carefully screened and are required to be well trained. They receive 30 hours of initial training and 12 hours of ongoing training each year .... (They) come from all walks of life. All you need is common sense and to care about children.

“You are just what our children need. You will find that being a CASA volunteer will reward you with some of the most powerful and fulfilling experiences you can find. You will find that you have not only lifted up the life of a child but your own as well.

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.

 

More information • The Franklin County CASA office is located in the courthouse annex, 483 Main St., Brookville. • Persons interested in volunteering can contact Reese at 765-547-1493 or casa@franklincounty.in.gov.