Guest column: Advocates aid kids in tough situations

By Less Wadzinski
February 7, 2012, last update: 2/7 @ 6:37 am

This guest column was written by Les Wadzinski, a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Monroe County.

Perhaps you read the H-T article (Jan. 23) titled “Report questions child safety agency’s work”. Or, perhaps you didn’t read it because it involved a topic most of us would rather avoid – children dying from neglect and abuse.

The article summarized an Indianapolis Star report that was even more gut wrenching, complete with photos of 22 babies and toddlers along with the awful details of their deaths caused by their parent and/or parent’s friends.

The Star was critical of the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) because each of these cases had some involvement by that agency, with obviously tragic outcomes.

So is DCS incompetent and uncaring? Oh, there are some bad apples just like anywhere, but I think it is safe to say most DCS case managers are in the Mother Theresa category. Who else would deal with such horrific circumstances, difficult adults and low pay?

Did these tragedies occur because DCS top management is pressuring case managers to close cases quickly and thus save money? Might be; the governor really wants the state to look good financially. Is it because the DCS’s “Safely Home-Families First” program strongly encourages kids be kept in the home?

The research says that removal from a family can be as damaging as the abuse or neglect itself. However, these tragic cases show that home placement must be reviewed much more closely, since being murdered by your parents is the ultimate damage.

So what to do? I’m certainly no expert, and my comments above are merely an opinion. However, I do know of a program that can help – the Monroe County Court Appointed Special Advocate program. CASAs are volunteers appointed by the court to serve as legal advocates for children determined to be a Child in Need of Services.

Ironically, the parents are assigned a public defender, and the DCS has its own lawyer, but the kids do not get a lawyer. The CASA fulfills that role by speaking on behalf of the child in court.

The CASA gathers information, monitors progress and makes recommendations to the judge. The CASA provides the safety net that keeps kids from “falling through the cracks,” the apparent reason behind many of these tragedies.

Keep in mind this issue is not limited to Indianapolis. In 2011, Monroe County CASA served 323 kids classified as children in need of services. And the need for more CASAs continues to grow.

Interested? You don’t need a law degree, and an excellent 32-hour training course is offered locally. Cases usually last about a year, requiring a long-term commitment. The work can be frustrating, shocking and time consuming, but the rewards can be great. Imagine, saving a life!

Monroe County CASA will host an open house at 201 Morton St. on Feb. 23, 2012, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Financial support is also appreciated for this nonprofit organization.

For more information, visit the CASA website at monroecountycasa.org.