Friday, December 22, 2006

CASA volunteers share their stories

Advocates reach out to support abused children
5 volunteers join CASA
Schultz, Cynthia. Louisville Courier-Journal, Oct. 25, 2006, pg. J1.

They come from all walks of life, yet share a common thread: speaking up for children who are caught in a web of abuse, neglect and domestic problems and whose cases wind up in the court system.

They are CASAs — court appointed special advocates — who hope to make a difference by working for the best interest of each child.

Five new advocates for the Floyd and Washington County CASA program were sworn in recently by Floyd Circuit Court Judge Terrence Cody. The program, which now has 12 volunteers in Floyd County and two in Washington County, operates under the umbrella of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities.

Mardene Schlise, who lives in Floyd and works with Clark County Healthy Families, is a new advocate. As vice president of the Prevent Child Abuse Council for Clark and Floyd Counties, 52-year-old Schlise hopes her background will enhance her role.

"We have to be team players when it comes to children and get the parents to see that," she said. "It takes a village to raise a child."

Another new special advocate, Jeff Wenning, 35, of Clarksville, practices criminal law in Louisville. "I am from a large family that set good examples," he said. "I have the time, and am in good health.

Why not give back" to the community?
Kim Grantz , who has been the program's part-time director for 13 years, is happy to see new volunteers, but she said more are needed.

A state law passed last year requires Juvenile Family Court judges to appoint a special advocate to every case involving alleged abuse or neglect. Such appointments previously were made at the judge' s discretion.

"We want to make sure every child who has a need has a voice," Grantz said. "In order to do that, we need volunteers more than ever."

In 1996, Grantz was appointed by the Supreme Court Advisory Commission on CASA, which gives her a voice in the welfare of children.

In Indiana, more than 17,000 abuse and neglect cases were filed last year, according to the advocate program's Web site, Often children are removed from their homes because one or both parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Once a child enters the legal system, the courts determine , with the help of an advocate , whether the child can be returned to the home or whether other action should be considered — such as guardianship, adoption or foster care.

The program currently serves 21 children in Floyd and Washington counties.Volunteers receive 30 hours of training over a three-week period. They work alongside attorneys and social workers and their duties include independent investigations, writing reports and court appearances.

Annette Berger, a 44-year-old free lance paralegal, has been a special advocate for two years and works with teenage girls.

"I am their voice in court," she said. "It's just being there for them. I am a shoulder to cry on. They tell me what they like and what they don't like."

Mary June Robinson, of Louisville, serves on the program's advisory board.

"We will need CASAs until adults stop abusing children, and as long as there are meth labs in Southern Indiana," she said, referring to several raids by police in recent months. "Any time there is a bust, there usually are children present."


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