Six new Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers were welcomed Tuesday evening by Advocates for Children.

These volunteers look out for the interests of abused and neglected children and begin their roles at a time when the opioid-addiction epidemic has caused a spike in the number of youth entering the child-protection system.

A CASA maintains contact with the children, their caseworkers, parents and others to create a complete picture of the child’s circumstances and make recommendations to the courts about what course of action will be in that child’s best interest.

Over the past five years, the annual number of children served by Advocates for Children has nearly doubled, reaching an all time high of 841 served in 2016.

“These are our community’s most vulnerable children,” said Rick Scalf, community outreach coordinator for Columbus-based Advocates for Children. “And were it not for their CASA volunteers, they might be without a consistent and stable adult influence during one of the most difficult times in their young lives.”

The newest CASAs in Bartholomew County are Patrick Ballard, Hannah Bright, Karen Larson-Reuter, Hannah Miles, Jamee Reed and Breanna Scott.

Heather Mollo, Bartholomew County juvenile magistrate, thanked them for stepping up.

“Compared to you, my time with these children is brief, and also formal. You provide the essential detail that informs my decisions,” Mollo said.

How to become a CASA

Role: A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a community resident who volunteers, is trained to represent the best interests of neglected and abused children in the court system, and is appointed by a judge. The volunteer provides the judge with carefully researched factual information about the child and family to help make an informed decision about what is best for each child. Volunteers must be at least 21 years old.

Duties: Visiting the children, attending team meetings involving the parents and children, attending court hearings, and reaching out to anyone who has contact with the child.

Time: CASA volunteers spend an average of 10 hours per month on their cases, and remain with them until they are resolved.

Need: About 300 local children are on the waiting list for a CASA. To meet this need, Advocates for Children is preparing a training class beginning next week. People interested in learning more about the class are encouraged to sign up at apowerfulvoice.org/casa or by calling 877-604-9402.

Source: Advocates for Children

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.