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More CASA volunteers needed to mentor kids

When talking about the drug-abuse epidemic, most of the attention is focused on those needing treatment and how best to combat the problem. However, there’s another group of people that’s directly impacted by the disease that doesn’t discriminate: children.
‘Comparing this time last year to this time this year, CASA has seen a 200% increase in the number of children coming into the court system,’ Lindy Coleman, executive director of the Harrison County CASA program, said. ‘More than 90% of those children have a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol.’
‘Other CASAs are seeing the same thing,’ added Jon Train, who has been a CASA volunteer for four years.
CASA ‘ Court Appointed Special Advocates ‘ consists of volunteers who are trained to assist neglected and abused children through the court system.
‘We want to show the kids that there’s also adults who care about them and how their life can be different,’ Train said.
With the influx in the number of children entering the court system, there are some who aren’t being aided by volunteers who have their best interests in mind.
Coleman and Train are on a mission: To recruit more volunteers. A public relations grant from the state will be used to help spread the word about CASA and what it does.
‘Last year, we had six new volunteers,’ Coleman said.
According to the county’s CASA website, there currently are 13 volunteers serving 63 children. A minimum of five new adults is wanted. Coleman said the need is greatest for male volunteers.
‘Some volunteers have more cases than others,’ Train said due to the lack of more people involved.
To be a CASA volunteers, individuals:
‘ must be at least 21.
‘ must pass a background check.
‘ cannot have a history with the Dept. of Child Services.
‘ must have transportation for visiting children and court appearances.
Volunteers, who do not have to be residents of Harrison County, receive 30 hours of training, which includes classroom time, observation and mentoring. Those who choose to become CASA volunteers are asked to make a commitment to the program for at least one year.
‘It’s a very supportive setting,’ Coleman said. ‘We work at it together to figure out problems (volunteers) might have. We usually have a lot of contact with new volunteers. It’s not like they’re trained and then out on their own.’
Support also comes from Harrison County Circuit Judge John T. Evans.
‘The judge is very supportive,’ Train said. ‘If we can do something to help stop the cycle, it helps Harrison County for the future. These kids (who go through the program) may have a different take on how to raise kids.’
Coleman said CASA volunteers spend an average of one to two hours a week working on cases.
For those considering becoming a volunteer who might wonder about safety, Coleman said, ‘Once CASA is involved, the kids are retained in a foster home.’
Depending on the age of the child, CASA volunteers also can see a child at their school.
‘We recommend they go with a case manager the first few times to help establish rapport’ with the child, Train said. ‘We try to make it as stress free as possible.’
The average CASA case lasts 2-1/2 to three years.
‘There are some long-term cases,’ Coleman said. ‘Some close in guardianship.’
Coleman and Train believe the CASA program makes a difference in children’s lives.
‘It does feel wonderful when I see a family reunited,’ Train said. ‘I can’t tell you how good it feels to help change a kid’s future.’
For more information about becoming a CASA volunteer, call 812-738-3645, visit www.hcccasa.com or send an email to [email protected]

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