A program to help abused and neglected kids in Starke County through the court system has gotten national certification. The Starke County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program is made up of volunteers who give of their time to help these children.
Director Rhonda Adcock says the advocates help the court make the best decisions. “As CASAs, we have two concerns, and these two concerns are always our priority and our only priority,” she says. “First of all is the wishes of the child. Whatever the child wants, it’s our responsibility to report that to the court. Now sometimes, that’s the same as our second thing, which is the best interest of the child. So, if their wishes and best interests are the same, then we report that. If not, we report what the wishes of the child are and also what we believe is in the best interest of that child.”
That often involves going out and gathering information by spending time with the child and possibly talking to parents, foster parents, or teachers. Adcock says CASAs then use all that information to compile a report for the judge, “The judge takes those very seriously. He reads each of them and considers them. They carry a lot of weight because this is a volunteer who’s not getting paid for what they’re doing. The volunteer is just in it for the benefit of the child, so the CASA report can be a very powerful thing in the life of a child, as far as making a difference.”
As proof that the Starke County program is providing a quality advocacy for these children, Adcock says it’s now been certified by the National CASA Association, “They have a long series of standards that we have to meet. They’re pretty high, and even though Starke County’s kind of remote and a smaller county, we believe that the children that we serve are worthy of the best volunteers, the best volunteer CASA program that we can get them.”
She says to keep the certification, the Starke County program will have to go through all of its policies and programs every four years to make sure they continue to meet the national standards. Meanwhile, the organization continues to be certified at the state level.