Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteers are needed to shepherd abused or neglected children who are taken from their parents by the state through the court system. Starke Circuit Judge Kim Hall says that happens for a variety of reasons.
“We have pregnant mothers who intentionally abuse drugs, and then their babies are born with harmful drugs in their bodies. Children are often raised around dangerous meth labs, which is an epidemic in this county. Those labs give off toxic chemicals. You know one in four children in Starke County lives in poverty, and we’ve had children living in homes that are completely uninhabitable. We’ve had evidence where snow’s coming through the walls in the winter time,” said Hall.
In situations like this, DCS files a court case to remove children from the home, and the court intervenes. Hall says that’s where the CASA comes in.
“That’s the person who’s responsibility it is to speak on behalf of the child in the courtroom, and when it’s all said and done the advocate gives the judge his or her opinion on what is in the best interest of the child. In Starke County, the CASA is extremely helpful in making the best decision for the children of our county,” Hall explained.
Judge Hall says the CASA’s role in the process is critical.
“Only the CASA is neutral, independent and comes into the courtroom with only one mission, to share with the judge what is in the best interest of the child,” Hall said.
CASA’s go through 10 weeks of training in order to be part of the program. The next training class starts on Tuesday, Sept. 3. It’s free, but volunteers need to pay the $45 for a criminal background check. Contact Starke County CASA Director Rhonda Adcock at (574)772-7200 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.