Children benefit from greater CASA support

A growing number of children in Bartholomew County need help in the family court system because of an increase in child abuse and neglect cases.

The increase has been fueled by parental drug addiction that is getting worse. Methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse had been the main issues, but now heroin has become the biggest problem.

As a result, the number of child abuse and neglect cases in the county increased from 32 a decade ago to 258 in 2015. Last year’s total reflects 104 more cases than in 2014.

That’s meant more children removed from parents’ homes, and an overwhelming case log for court-appointed special advocates (CASAs), the volunteers who look out for the children’s best interests while navigating them through the court system.

According to state law, every child removed from a parent’s home is supposed to be assigned a court-appointed special advocate to represent his or her legal interests in court. However, the caseload has increased so much that the number of advocates can’t keep up.

Advocates for Children, which recruits and trains the volunteers, had a backlog of 325 unassigned cases as of February because of a shortage of CASA volunteers. 

That is unfortunate, considering the help these children need and the circumstances they are trying to overcome in unstable homes.

You can lend a hand to those children, however.

One way is to become a court-appointed special advocate, a perfect opportunity for those with civic-minded interests and time to volunteer. Volunteers must be at least 21 years old and must pass a basic background check. They are not required to have a law background, and receive training in courtroom procedure, social services and the special needs of abused and neglected children. CASA volunteers spend an average of 10 hours per month on their case.

Another way to help is to support the Crooners for CASA fundraiser. The singing competition raised $51,000 last year to help the nonprofit Advocates for Children train the volunteer children’s advocates. This year’s fundraiser is 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. April 9 at The Commons.

Helping children in need is crucial and a worthy cause. Whether you volunteer to become a court-appointed special advocate or provide monetary assistance to the organization that trains the volunteers, either way you can play an important role in ensuring the best interests of children in need are supported.

How to help

To learn how to become a court-appointed special advocate, call Advocates for Children at 812-372-2808, or go online at apowerfulvoice.org.

The Crooners for CASA team-oriented karaoke fundraiser is 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. April 9 at The Commons, 300 Washington St., Columbus. It features a cash bar and DJ Apollo after the performances. Tickets are $50 for individuals and $450 for a table of eight people. For information, call 812-372-2808 or go online at croonersforcasa.com.