Since 2006, I’ve volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children who’ve allegedly been neglected or abused and have become wards of the Department of Child Services.
They aren’t always removed from their homes, but often are placed in foster homes or with relatives.
By law, every CHINS (“child in need of services”) should be represented by a CASA, but there aren’t enough of us. The training to become a CASA takes six weeks, three hours twice a week.
I’ve represented kids from infants to teenagers in nine cases – enough to make some generalizations.
First, being removed from their parents, even if they’ve been abused, is always traumatic for children.
Second, neglect or abuse is often unintentional. Parents usually love their children and don’t mean to harm them. They also usually treat CASAs with respect.
Third, social workers who remove children from their parents have a very tough job. Those I’ve worked with have been very professional and have tried to do what’s best for both children and parents.
Fourth, in all my cases, poverty has been a factor. There are many reasons for poverty, but like wealth it is frequently inherited. The poor often wind up “in the system” – in jail, in the courts, in need of social services – unlike better-off people. If you live in a mansion and beat your kids, nobody else may ever know about it. If you live in a trailer court and beat your kids, everybody is likely to know about it.
Fifth, most of my cases have involved substance abuse. Again, it’s easier to catch poor drug users than rich ones. Further, the drug problem is not just an urban phenomenon. A great-grandfather told me he believes that half of the rural county where he lives is on drugs. His grandson, father of the kid I was representing, had gone to prison for robbery, trying to get money for drugs.
Sixth, CASAs are tempted to become emotionally attached to the kids we represent. Our job, however, is not to be Big Brothers or Big Sisters to them. It is instead to find out as much as possible about their situations and report what we find to the Juvenile Court.
The goal is getting parents and kids reunified. That does not always happen, but in most of my cases, the kids have wound up in better situations than before they became CHINS.
If they haven’t been reunified with their parents, they have remained with relatives or in foster care, or else someone has become their legal guardian or adopted them.
If you are interested in the well-being of children, families, and our community and would like more information about becoming a CASA volunteer, please contact Owen County CASA by calling 812-585-7652 or by sending an email to owen_ firstname.lastname@example.org.
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