Representatives of Family Advocates the La Porte County and Pulaski County Court Appointed Special Advocate program (CASA) participated in the fourth annual CASA Day at the Indiana State House on Monday. Family Advocates joined representatives from several other counties around the State rallying for the CASA program and meeting with their legislators to talk about the program, urging them to add a funding increase for the CASA program in the State budget. CASA volunteers advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children who are involved in the child welfare system. They are able to provide a voice in the court for the child, making sure the child's best interests are presented to the court system. They also strive to have the child in a permanent, safe and loving home as soon as possible.
In the State of Indiana there are 3,402 active CASA volunteers who advocate on behalf of 18,690 children. Their volunteer efforts save the State $25 million dollars annually. Locally, 44 CASA volunteers advocate for 108 victims of abuse and/or neglect.
Local programs try to meet the need of every child who needs a CASA, and unfortunately there still is a need for more CASA volunteers. More than 4,000 children in Indiana are on a waiting list for a CASA. A state statute says that every child who is found a Child In Need of Services in the courts needs to have a CASA volunteer. The Indiana State Office of GAL/CASA helps fund local CASA programs, and supports the programs with technical, legal, and supervisory advice.
The State office is currently requesting a budget increase of $2.1 million, bringing their budget to $5 million. They have stayed at the same budget since 2007, and they have increased the number of programs they serve by 22 percent. With this additional funding they will also be able to roll out and implement a much-needed statewide case management system, hire someone to assist with that roll-out, continue to support the 77 counties by administering grants to organizations that have CASA programs, and implement a training curriculum on serving minority youth and advocating for youth aging out of foster care. The budget increase was taken out at first reading in the House and will need to be added back in at the Senate reading of the State budget.
While at the Statehouse, CASA volunteers heard from two former foster youth, who spoke about how much their CASA meant to them. One of the youth spoke on how she had several different case workers in and out of her life, but that her CASA volunteer was the one constant. They also heard from CASA State director Leslie S. Dunn, Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush, and State Senator Carlin Yoder. Montgomery County CASA representatives who attended CASA Day at the Statehouse also had an opportunity to meet with State Senator Phil Boots to talk about the significance of the program and the need for a budget increase.
If you or someone you know would be interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, please contact Titilayo Akhigbe at 219-324-3385 or visit our website at www.lpcasa.com.