Breaking News: Herald-Times Highlights CASA and Child Welfare Issues – March 31, 2011

CASA in need of more volunteers
By Dann Denny

The Monroe County Court Appointed Special Advocates board launched a volunteer recruitment campaign two months ago, hoping to raise the number of CASA volunteers from 96 to 111 by March 1 and to 146 by the end of the year.

The campaign, which ran from Jan. 19 to Feb. 18 and included everything from group presentations to TV ads, fell a bit shy of that goal, producing six new CASA volunteers.

Those volunteers have begun taking a two-days-a-week, five-week training course March 1-April 15, a course that is offered three times a year. The next training course will be offered May 16-June 20, and applications are needed by May 6.

If you’re interested in volunteering as a CASA, you can call 333-2272 or apply online at monroecountycasa.org.

Kristin Bishay, CASA’s director, said volunteering as a CASA is not for everyone.

“There can be a high level of frustration and a lot of emotional involvement,” she said. “But the rewards are overwhelming. To walk out of a courtroom after you are sure the judge heard you, and that you made a difference in a child’s life, is extremely gratifying.”

Lorraine Merriman, 59, who’s been a CASA for 13 years and was recently nominated for National CASA of the Year, said her work can be heart-wrenching, but also deeply satisfying.

“It really boils down to one human being helping another human being, but in this case my charge is the children – making sure they have a safe, loving and permanent home,” said Merriman.

She said the most challenging aspect of her CASA work is encountering delays in the court system.

“I find continuances very frustrating,” she said. “I know they are necessary because the court dockets are so full, but it can be difficult to see a child suffer because the process is taking longer than I would like.”

Merriman said CASA work is not for the faint of heart. She’s still haunted by a case in which a family was torn apart due to one of the parents’ mental illness.

“It was so difficult to watch the parents and children suffer as they went through the process of understanding this mental illness and its short- and long-term effects,” she said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Children are waiting

Including new and ongoing cases, Monroe County CASAs served 311 children in 2010, compared with 361 in 2009, 297 in 2008 and 255 in 2007.

There are currently 22 children on the waiting list for a CASA, and they.re spending an average of three to four months on that list.

State law requires that all abused or neglected children be represented by a CASA, but because of the shortage of volunteers, only 72 percent of Child in Need of Special Services cases in Monroe County Juvenile Court have a CASA.

“I would prefer to have 100 percent of my cases have a CASA,” said Monroe County juvenile court judge Steve Galvin. “But I know that’s impossible given the numbers.”

National award

Monroe County CASA recently won a national award for a volunteer recruitment poster it had designed featuring a photo of a small, doe-eyed boy looking directly at the camera.

Beneath the photo, a headline reads, “Stand up for abused children, so they can stand a chance.” In smaller letters are these words: “Be the difference. Become a CASA.”

The poster was one of three award winners in the first-ever National CASA Association Communications Contest, which drew more than 55 entries nationwide. The winning entry was in the volunteer category, one of three possible categories in which entries were judged.

“I am so excited that Monroe County CASA has received this recognition from National CASA,” said Tiffany Kinney, Monroe County CASA assistant director. “Hopefully our volunteer recruitment campaign will help motivate individuals to volunteer and support CASA.”

She said CASA is grateful to Ryan Kegley, a Kansas City director and designer, for designing the poster, of which nearly 150 copies were made and distributed all over Bloomington.

Volunteer advocates play key role in cases involving abused, neglected kids
CASA’s involvement can help avoid repetition of child abuse, neglect

By Dann Denny

Judge Steve Galvin

Judge Steve Galvin