By Lindsay Owens
---- — Daviess County now has three more Court Appointed Special Advocates after Circuit Court Judge Gregory A. Smith swore in Misty Kelsey, Karen Powers and Summer Chesser on Wednesday.
“CASA volunteers represent children in need of services and are appointed by a judge to speak on behalf of what is best for the child,” said Sandy Bowman, CASA director.
“We have about a dozen volunteers that serve around 60 children in our county.”
Bowman said that typically each local volunteer represents about two cases a year.
The CASA program was first started in 1977 in Seattle, Wash., after Seattle Juvenile Court Judge David W. Soukup realized that children entered into the legal system due to neglect or abuse were often times “re-victimized by the courts and over-burdened, understaffed, public social service agencies,” according to the CASA for children website. Lawyers represented parents and the state but the children, who had the most at stake in the proceedings, were often unrepresented.
Soukup started training volunteers to represent the children as Guardians Ad Litems or GALS. In 1978, the program was brought to the attention of the Children in Placement of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and CASA was born.
The program reached Indiana in 1989 and there are now CASA programs in 73 of Indiana’s 92 counties.
“What you are doing is some of the most important work done in the courts,” said Judge Smith. “Without volunteers, this just wouldn’t work. This can be heartwrenching at times but it can also be quite rewarding.”
In 2005, the Indiana Legislature mandated that all children involved in cases of neglect or abuse be appointed a CASA or GAL. The volunteers stay on each child’s case until the case is closed and the child is placed in a safe and permanent home.
CASA volunteers require no specialized degree or legal experience but all volunteers must be over the age of 21, commit to complete a 30-hour minimum training course and have a flexible schedule and transportation. On average, many volunteers go to court about four or five times per year and have a few meetings to attend.
Seven local volunteers will be traveling to the state CASA/GAL conference in Indianapolis today. “This is a chance for us to come together to get training through the state office,” said Bowman.
For more information on becoming a CASA volunteer, visit www.casaforchildren.org or contact the local office at 254-8670.