2014-12-02 / Front Page

Volunteers Needed To Advocate For Abused, Neglected Children

Staff Report

Current Owen County Circuit Court Referee and Owen County Circuit Court II Judge-elect Kelsey Hanlon (left) swears in CASA volunteers Becky Cape and Virginia Roberts. 
(Courtesy Photo) Current Owen County Circuit Court Referee and Owen County Circuit Court II Judge-elect Kelsey Hanlon (left) swears in CASA volunteers Becky Cape and Virginia Roberts. (Courtesy Photo) The Owen County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer program is in urgent need of additional volunteers to represent local children. As a volunteer, one can bring positive change to the lives of abused and neglected children in our community. These vulnerable children are in need of a positive voice.

In July of 2013 a total of 28 children were involved in open Children in Need of Services (CHINS) abuse and neglect court cases in Owen County. Since then, the total has risen dramatically, with more than 90 children involved in open CHINS court cases.

“Owen County has wonderful children that need all of our help. Our children may be less than 25 percent of our total population but they are 100 percent of our future,” Owen County Circuit Court I Judge Lori Thatcher-Quillen said. “We can no longer stand by and say someone needs to do something with these kids! That someone is every one of us. Owen County has always stepped up and supported our family, friends and neighbors. We need everyone’s help more than ever now for our kids.”

Owen County CASA Director Beth Eaton currently enlists the help of volunteers Sandy Wood, Sandy Beverstock, Bonnie Tinsley, Erin Mullin, Becky Cape, Virginia Roberts and Michael Summers. These caring, trained volunteers advocate for a total of 35 children. While Eaton says their work is truly appreciated, several new volunteers are also needed in order to serve the many remaining children in need of an advocate.

People from all walks of life can become a volunteer. The Owen County CASA volunteer program is simply looking for people who care about children and have common sense. As a volunteer, you will be thoroughly trained and well supported to help you through each case.

“Children that have suffered neglect and/or abuse desperately need someone to advocate for them, to walk with them, to give them hope, and to be their voice during an extremely traumatic and confusing time in their lives,” Eaton said. “I cannot begin to tell you how valuable CASA volunteers are to these children.”

Becoming an Owen County CASA volunteer is an investment of time, energy and heart. Volunteers get to know a child by talking with everyone in that child’s life: parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers and others. They use the information they gather to inform judges and others of what the child needs and what they believe will be the best permanent home for them.

“Having enough volunteers for every child to have a CASA is vitally important to conducting Child in Need of Services Cases,” Owen County Circuit Court II Judge-elect Kelsey Hanlon said. “CASAs advocate for the child’s best interests in cases that can be long, confusing, and traumatic for all of the parties involved. CASAs gather information and provide an extra set of eyes and ears on the ground in these cases where so much is at stake.”

The Owen County CASA volunteer program was established in 2004 under the guidance of The Honorable Frank M. Nardi. At that time, Thatcher-Quillen was named as the first director of the program, a division of the Owen Circuit Court. Many caring Owen County community members have served as CASA volunteers since the program’s inception. Owen County CASA remains firmly committed, as stated in the program mission statement, “To making a difference in the life of a child through trained volunteers willing to donate their time to determine the best interest of a child that has entered the judicial proceedings for abuse and/or neglect.”

The requirements to become a volunteer for the Owen County CASA program include:

•Be age 21 or over.

•Reside in Owen County.

•Have a high school diploma (or equivalent).

•Be willing to complete necessary background checks.

•Complete an application, provide references, and participate in an interview.

•Complete a minimum of 30 hours of provided preservice training.

•Be available for court appearances, with advance notice.

•Be willing to commit to the CASA program until your first case is closed.

The primary responsibilities of a CASA volunteer are as follows:

•Gather information: Review documents and records regarding the children and the case. Interview the children, family members and professionals in their lives.

•Document findings: Provide written reports prior to court hearings that include fact based recommendations on what you believe is in the child’s best interest.

•Appear in court: Advocate for the child’s best interests and provide testimony when necessary. Be their voice in court.

•Explain what is going on: Help the child understand the court proceedings.

•“Be the glue”: Seek cooperative solutions among individuals and organizations involved in the children’s lives.

•Recommend services: Help to ensure that the children and their family are receiving appropriate services. Bring concerns about the child’s health, education, mental health, etc. to the appropriate professionals.

•Monitor case plans and court orders: Check to see that plans are being followed.

•Keep the court informed: Update the court on developments throughout the case. Inform the court of any changes in the child’s situation.

CASA volunteers are “For the Child.” The next training to become a volunteer will begin January 12, 2015. For more information or to request an application, contact director Beth Eaton by calling 812-585-7652 or emailing owen_ casa@yahoo.com.

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