Every child should have a safe, loving and permanent home; unfortunately many do not. In Indiana alone, thousands of abused or neglected children become entangled in an overburdened child welfare system that involves multiple caseworkers and foster care placements, numerous court hearings and a lot of red tape.
Children are often removed from their homes and placed in foster care while their future is decided without their input, knowledge or participation. Important decisions are made about whether they will be able to return home, live with relatives, or be available for adoption. Imagine for a minute being a helpless child; you know that everyone is going to court to talk about you, your family and when or if you can go home. But no one helps you understand what is happening or gives the court any information about what you think, what you need and what you want your future to be. This is what happens if a child does not have an advocate.
Abused and neglected children who come into the foster care system are scared, confused, sad, lonely, overwhelmed and often feel hopeless and helpless. They will meet many different adults such as case workers and service providers. They may be placed in several different foster homes. There are a lot of new faces and it is not clear to a child who these different people are and what they do. The CASA volunteer reassures and helps the child understand that the volunteer is there JUST for them – to help them through the process, to help them understand, to help them have a voice. These children desperately need a stable influence, a consistent adult in their lives whose only mission is to determine and advocate for their best interests.
The Indiana Child Advocates Network is made up of local programs that recruit, train and supervise community volunteers for the tough, but rewarding role of helping children through the court process and on to a better life in their own home, with a relative or with an adoptive family. Once trained, a volunteer is appointed by a judge to advocate for an abused or neglected child by providing objective information and recommendations.
- According to the National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association, children with a CASA volunteer are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care, defined as more than three years in care: 13.3% for CASA cases versus 27.0% of all children in foster care.
- Also, cases involving a CASA volunteer are more likely to be “permanently closed,” i.e., the children are less likely to re-enter the child welfare system than cases where a CASA volunteer is not involved. Just 9% of CASA children reenter the system. This is in contrast to 16% for children not served by a volunteer.
- Abused and neglected children are more likely to face homelessness, unemployment, and prison as adults. However, children with CASA volunteers are more likely to receive therapy, health care and education.
- Judges have observed that children with a CASA volunteer have better chances of finding permanent homes than those who didn’t have an advocate.
- 99% of Indiana judges who use CASA volunteers agreed that CASA volunteers influence the court’s decisions regarding children. 98% of Indiana judges agreed that children and families are better served because of CASA volunteers.