The Ohio Valley Court Appointed Special Advocates for children seeks to extend its services into McLean County by spring of 2020.
Trained CASA volunteers donate their time to the betterment of children in situations of abuse or neglect. They work closely with family courts and social workers, and act as an extra set of eyes and ears for the judge in cases of child abuse, according to Ohio Valley CASA Program Director Rosemary Conder.
Potential CASA candidates receive 30 hours of special, comprehensive training throughout a six-week timeframe. During this time, candidates learn about the different factors that play a part in the process of handling abuse cases such as diversity, cultural competency, substance abuse, generational abuse and the cycle of poverty, according to Kelsey Washburn, an Ohio Valley CASA supervisor.
”No two cases are the same...so we try to be very comprehensive ... and make sure all of our advocates are very open-minded,” Washburn said. “We’re learning about poverty versus neglect ... we talk about the minimum sufficient level of care that a child needs to be safe and loved because ... it’s not about kids having the biggest room ... it’s about what’s best for them.”
Washburn said in addition to spending time with the child and the family to gauge the situation, part of a CASA volunteer's job is to connect families with community resources that will provide them with the assistance they need, such as getting food or school supplies.
“We really want to help lift up the families and connect them to resources so they can heal and get back to being a family and not have the child back in the system,” Conder said. “We try to help break the cycle of abuse and neglect.”
CASA volunteers also work closely with the child’s doctor, therapist, teachers and anyone else directly involved with the child’s life and well-being, Conder said.
The program currently has 54 active volunteers in Daviess County with 11 new volunteers in training, according to Conder. She said that the goal as the program extends into McLean County in the coming months is to have 75 active volunteers throughout both counties.
According to Conder, volunteers sworn in will be assigned to at least one case and they commit to that case for its duration in the court system, which is usually from a year to a year and a half. Volunteers also commit to visiting with the child at least twice a month.
“It’s committing to being with the child and their family through one of the worst things they’ll ever go through in their life,” Washburn said. “For some people, it’s just too difficult to deal with a child that’s been physically, emotionally, sexually abused or to be around the parents that abused or neglected them, so it really does take a special person.”
Washburn said that while CASA volunteers must work solely toward the benefit of the children, they do typically hold a good relationship with the families of the children as well.
“We’re trying to help the family unit function better for the benefit of the child,” Washburn said. “Whatever we can do to make the lives better for these children, that’s what we strive to do.”