KOSCIUSKO — The Court Appointed Special Advocates program in Kosciusko County is serving more children each year and they need more volunteers to help. Last year CASA served 263 children and had 65 active volunteers.
Currently they are up 54 percent from their previous busiest year in 2014. With 128 new cases this year and the first ever wait list, more people are needed to help the children of Kosciusko County.
The latest training began Tuesday, Jan. 30. The next training will occur once they are able to gather at least 10 interested individuals, hopefully in the summer or fall. When an individual begins CASA training they view presentations from professionals throughout the community. During the training they begin to understand how readily available drugs are and how they touch every class of people. After graduating they see children who are affected by issues with drugs and much more.
A CASA is required to visit a child a minimum of once a month but they are able to schedule visits to their convenience. They not only meet with the child and parents but also teachers, other family members involved with the child and program directors. They are also required to go to court dates, express what they’ve seen through their detailed reports and can be asked for their opinion.
Depending on the size of the family and the age of the child involved, the hours spent volunteering each month may vary. Normally it tends to range between 20 and 30 hours per month. They also have the opportunity for 12 hours of continuing education every year.
“Our case load is on the rise. Every CHINS (Child in Need of Services) gets a CASA and we need more CASAs for the kids,” observed Judge David C. Cates. “I need adult advocates to help be my eyes and ears. I read everything and I question everything. We need people. We need volunteers. We need more people involved.”
The 2107 CASA of the Year winner, Beverley Wallstead, Syracuse, began as a CASA when she was working at Biomet and approaching retirement age. The last thing she wanted was “to be retired with nothing to do,” she commented. She found an ad for CASA training in the newspaper four years ago and has since discovered “children at risk are my passion.”
Wallstead describes being a CASA as acting as the voice of the child and goes on to explain “Every tool you need is provided for you by CASA — training, help, information, support.” In her opinion, church comes first and her work with CASA comes second.
She acted as the CASA for last year’s highlighted case in which a mother went through various programs and meetings to get her child back before relapsing. The child’s foster family then worked with the mother to teach her ways to be a better mother. Although the case was previously headed toward termination of parental rights, the mother has since been able to regain custody of her child.
Wallstead reflects on how things can change if the parent is willing to do whatever it takes to try to get their child back. As a CASA, she hopes the parent will get the necessary help to but her first priority is always acting in the best interests of the child.
Her husband, Chip, was convinced to become a volunteer both by his wife and after hearing of the opiate crisis beginning to take hold in Warsaw. “Our mission statement is that we’re in it for the children,” Chip explained and he wants to help the children who have become the victims of the opiate epidemic plaguing the county.
“The community is great when it comes to donating money or goods, but if you could just give a little of your time,” Chip urged. “If your heart is tugging you to become involved in the community and you love children, CASA is the way to help.”
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. For more information visit casachildren.com or the “CASA of Kosciusko County” Facebook page.