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Making a difference in the life of a child

June 30, 2010, last update: 6/29 @ 7:42 pm
The Court Appointed Special Advocates program has distinct disadvantages in the scramble for volunteers.

First, it can be really hard work and work that is extremely important to do well. Second, it’s a commitment that takes significant training. Third, it’s not a volunteer opportunity that will get you into the paper, not that that’s a serious reason most people volunteer for any charitable enterprise. But be assured, there are no cute pictures of leaf rakers for seniors or box stackers at a soup kitchen in the CASA files.

In fact, the people who volunteer for the program can’t even talk about what they do, much less blather to a reporter about the details. That’s because their clients are children who desperately need a grown-up to watch out for their interests, often because there’s no one else who can do that.

The cases are hard. They most often involve court cases where a child has been removed from the home. The advocate researches the problem, interviews the family, writes a report. The report may be the deciding factor on whether the child finally goes home or not. The process is not a quick turnaround. CASA board member Janice Arveson has helped six kids in her five years of volunteering. She, of course, doesn’t talk about the details. But she could say to reporter Lindsey Erdody that “I have found it extremely rewarding because I know I’m making a difference for that child”.

Right now, there are more kids than advocates. The Help Wanted sign is out. Go tomonroecountycasa.org to find out more. And if you really can’t be an advocate but still want to help, buy a ticket or a handful of them in the annual raffle of the CASA playhouse. They’re on sale at several locations, including Bloomington Hospital, Bloomington Hardware, the East Third Street fire station and at the CASA office in One City Centre at Seventh Street and College Avenue.

More CASA volunteers needed for increasing caseload

By Lindsey Erdody moc.t1493276582dlare1493276582h@ydo1493276582drel1493276582
June 28, 2010, last update: 6/28 @ 11:47 pm

This playhouse is the prize in a raffle to benefit Monroe County CASA. Courtesy photo

Case numbers are on the rise at Monroe County CASA, but volunteer numbers are not rising as fast. The local organization assists children during court hearings because they were removed from their homes. Since June 2008, the wait list numbers have increased 74 percent despite the increase from 58 court appointed special advocates to 72.

“Our case load has gone up a lot,” CASA volunteer and member of the board of directors Janice Arvesen said. The letters CASA stand for court appointed special advocate. Children are automatically assigned an advocate after the Department of Child Services has removed them from their home. The court process continues even if the child is added to the wait list.

“Children are on our wait list for three to four months,” assistant director of CASA Tiffany Kinney said. “Typically because we are four months out, a case is not going to close before we assign a CASA”. Arvesen has worked with the organization for about five years and has helped six children. “I wanted to be able to help children that were in a situation that was no making of their own,” she said. “I have found it extremely rewarding because I know I’m making a difference for that child”.

Each volunteer is assigned to one case at a time and works with one family. They are responsible for researching the case, meeting with the parents and the children and making safety recommendations to the court.

“We need to take care of these kids because they can’t take care of themselves,” Arvesen said. “It’s a responsibility that we all have”. “The average time commitment for CASAs is 10 to 15 hours per month”, Kinney said.

Volunteers must apply at the office and be interviewed. If chosen, they will go through training including child awareness and some legal education.

“It’s very involved but it’s excellent,” Arvesen said. Those interested in volunteering can apply now and the training process will begin in September. “All are needed and welcome,” Arvesen said. Kinney explained they look for people with good communication and writing skills and with an interest in helping children. In addition to needing volunteers, Arvesen said the organization always needs fundraising.

“It’s an ongoing need, especially as our case numbers rise,” she said. The Playhouse raffle is CASA’s current fundraiser that continues until Sept. 5. “It’s an adorable full-sized playhouse that kids play in,” Arvesen said. The Playhouse can be seen in the Fourth of July parade. Raffle tickets are available at the CASA office, Bloomington Hardware, Bloomington Hospital and the fire station on East Third Street. They can be purchased until Sept. 5. Tickets cost $2 for one, $5 for three, $10 for 10 and $20 for 25. “It helps us with our ongoing operations,” Kinney said.

70 cases in need of CASA volunteers
By Bethany Nolan
March 11, 2010

With 70 children waiting for people to advocate for them in the court system, CASA needs more volunteers – who will in turn need someone to supervise them.

That was the gist of an additional appropriation request before the Monroe County Council earlier this week, where Monroe Circuit Court Judge Steve Galvin asked for $10,000 to partially fund another part-time position for the Court Appointed Special Advocate organization.

CASA is a nonprofit program that trains volunteers to act as advocates in juvenile court for child victims of abuse and neglect. Monroe County funds 42 percent of the organization, and CASA fund-raises the remainder of its budget, director Kristin Bishay said.

Galvin said cases for Children in Need of Services rose from 112 in 2008 to 230 in 2009, meaning there aren’t enough volunteers to assist in each case. Bishay estimated there were 70 cases waiting for a CASA volunteer.

Galvin said he wasn’t sure why the case load had gone up, but said he was seeing more cases involving children with drug-addicted parents than he’s seen in the past. “Meth cases have dropped, but heroin is on the rise,” he said. “And our drug cases in general are on the rise.”

Bishay said CASA has two full-time and three part-time positions, and the additional $10,000 will fund part of the salary of a fourth part-time position. That person will supervise 25 volunteers, she said.

The organization has 92 volunteers. Bishay said the organization served 100 more children in 2008, but only served 72 percent of those in need in 2009. That’s compared to 86 percent in 2008, she said, adding, “We’re treading water.”

The council approved the additional appropriation request with a unanimous vote.

Recent cases highlight the value of CASA volunteers
By Dann Denny
December 20, 2009

One recent morning, Janice Arvesen was sitting in a restaurant with friends when she saw a story in The Herald-Times about a 3-year-old Bloomington boy who had died after what appeared to be a beating.

“It really hit me in the gut,” she said. “Here was another senseless and preventable death involving an innocent child.”

In recent weeks, two other local children have been hospitalized because of beating or abuse injuries. Arrests have been made in all three cases.

Arvesen is a board member and volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates Inc., which uses community volunteers to advocate in juvenile court for abused and neglected children.

“We need more Monroe County CASA volunteers to speak up for children in our court system in a clear, educated and responsible voice,” she said. “The volunteers are the eyes and the ears of the court, representing our most vulnerable citizens — the child victims.”

Arvesen said when a child enters the court system due to reported abuse or neglect, state law requires the child to have a CASA volunteer assigned to represent the child in court.

“But we have so many kids on our waiting list that it’s impossible to do that,” she said. “Many children in dangerous environments must be placed at the bottom of our waiting list.”

She said those wishing to become a CASA volunteers need to apply for the training session — Feb. 3 through March 6 — no later than Jan. 18. People can apply by calling 333-CASA (ext. 12), emailinggro.a1493276582sacyt1493276582nuoce1493276582ornom1493276582@ofni1493276582, or visiting monroecountycasa.org.

The application process involves a phone screening, written application and in-person interview. If at that point CASA Inc. and the applicant feel it’s a good fit, the person can begin the 36-hour training over six weeks.

“I know CASA volunteers make a difference,” Arvesen said. “I once told Child Protective Services that a home in which there had been abuse was not yet ready for another child, leading to a baby being removed from the home and preventing further abuse from taking place.”

Kristin Bishay, director of CASA Inc., said a government survey showed that the rate of abused or neglected kids coming back into the system due to more abuse or neglect was reduced by half if they had a CASA volunteer working on their behalf.

Bishay said thanks to an influx of 15 newly trained CASA Inc. volunteers, the number of children on the waiting list has shrunk from 77 last August to 40 today.

“But we still have only 92 volunteers, and need at least 25 more,” she said. “We once thought we needed only 100 volunteers, but our case load keeps growing. We served more children during the first six months of 2009 — 278 — than during all of 2008. So far in 2009 we’ve served 355 kids.”

Bishay said CASA Inc. became its own entity Oct. 1, separating from the Family Service Association of Monroe County after it had raised more than $30,000 to cover the agency’s first month of payroll, rent and volunteer recruitment and training.

“Our regular donors really came through for us,” she said. “We left the FSA on a good note, and I think the separation gives our volunteers more of a sense of ownership of the agency.”

Bishay said that while CASA Inc. is financially strong, the agency’s expenses keep going up.

“We now have so many volunteers that we may need to hire another case supervisor,” she said. “We now have five case supervisors, but not all of them are full-time.”

CASA Inc. receives funding from the Monroe County courts, grants, state CASA organization, fund raising and private donations. Bishay said it costs about $22,000 a month to run the program.

More volunteers needed to help needy children
December 22, 2009

In court cases involving abused and neglected children, our legal system is set up to provide both the state and the defendant with legal representation.

But for the children whose future safety and well-being is at stake, it’s just as important that their interests be protected, too.

The Monroe County Court Appointed Special Advocates program is operated by a nonprofit organization that enlists and trains impartial adult volunteers to speak out for children in court. Because state law requires that such a volunteer be appointed to represent each child in a case involving reported abuse or neglect, there is a constant demand for CASA services. Currently in Monroe County there are many more children on the waiting list than there are CASA volunteers. Children in dangerous environments may have to wait weeks before being assigned a volunteer.

Studies have shown that the rate of abused or neglected children ending up back in the court system is reduced by half when there is CASA representation. This demonstrates the important role of independent CASA advocacy in the disposition of these cases.

Although CASA has done an admirable job of recruiting volunteers, about 25 more are needed to help the growing number of children needing these services. The agency served more children in the first six months of 2009 than it had during all of 2008.

To sign up for the upcoming volunteer training session, which runs Feb. 3 through March 6, call 333-CASA or send an e-mail to gro.a1493276582sacyt1493276582nuoce1493276582ornom1493276582@ofni1493276582.

Pat FarmerCASA volunteers act as the ‘voice of a child’ — Volunteers spend time working to make life ‘safer and more nurturing’ for child victims
December 23, 2009

2009 was a great year for Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Thirty-four community members were sworn in as new CASA volunteers.

They all joined a wonderful group of people who advocate in court for our most vulnerable citizens — the abused and neglected children.

Monroe County CASA Inc. is very proud of the work they do and are even more proud of the volunteers’ tireless efforts in making life safer and more nurturing for the child victims.

Applications are being accepted for the Feb. 3 through March 6 training class.

If you are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer or would like more information about Monroe County CASA, Inc. contact us at 333-CASA (2272) or look for us on the Web at monroecountycasa.org.