During these pandemic times my thoughts — and prayers — often turn to children and their parents. How is it going for them? And for the agencies and volunteers who help them?
I reached out to Brooke Griggs, executive director of Northeastern Indiana CASA, a five-county agency.
Court-appointed special advocate volunteers provide a voice for powerless children involved in judicial proceedings. They advocate for the child’s best interests and strive to improve the child’s circumstances and quality of life.
I asked her, “In a few words, how is it going for CASA?” and she replied, “Adjusting and growing.”
Here is the rest of the email interview:
What have been the main challenges during the pandemic?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we quickly had to adapt to a virtual world when we had very little knowledge of how to navigate it. Visits with the children we advocate for became virtual, meetings, court hearings — all aspects of our job had to be done through a screen.
A majority of our volunteers are in the senior age range; many technological challenges arose for our advocates. The biggest challenge was not having access to the children CASA advocates for and, at times, being unsure of their level of safety. When our advocates are not able to physically see the child and confirm they are safe, it comes with a great deal of uneasiness that we are not able to provide the best advocacy for the children we serve.
Could you share some success stories?
These three stories were written by current CASA volunteers.
• While in court with my teen male CASA case, I was able to get the judge let me bring him back into the judge’s chambers to best explain his feelings about the family situation. Allowing this boy to face-to-face tell the judge his thoughts made a valuable impact on both the boy and the judge, and helped shape the judge’s decision to best help this young man have less trauma in his life.
• I testified to move custody of a little boy from his mother. When I visited that little boy afterwards at his paternal grandparents’ home, his grandmother said that when she told him I was coming, he said, “My mother said to stay away from those court ladies” and asked, “Is she a court lady?” The grandmother told him yes ... When the little boy entered the room and saw me he ran straight into my outstretched arms and gave me a big hug. Court ladies also have hearts.
• I met a 13 year-old boy in institutional living. I remained his CASA through those years and then to a group home setting. At 18, he made the decision to leave the program. He encountered many obstacles and even dangerous situations. He would call me and we would talk. I gave him advice which he rarely took. He is now almost 22, is married and has a child. He lives in another state. Occasionally, we touch base to catch up. He knows that I am here if he needs to talk. He has a special place in my heart and I am glad that I have been here for him, even in such a small way.
Are more volunteers needed?
There is always a need for volunteers! Right now our highest need is in Noble and LaGrange counties, but there is a need in every county (the other three counties Northeastern Indiana CASA serves are DeKalb, Steuben and Whitley).
There is an initial 30-hour training to teach all aspects of being a CASA volunteer. This is now a hybrid training between in-person and virtual; allowing a hybrid training has opened up an opportunity for more potential advocates to complete the initial training.
After the initial training, the time commitment is about four to six hours a month. We require monthly visitation with the child, being involved in meetings with the child and family team (monthly), and attending court hearings (typically every six months).
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Being a CASA advocate provides an opportunity to be a bigger part of your community by advocating for the most at-risk children. This voice is a powerful part of judicial proceedings to ensure all the child’s needs are being met while they are going through such a critical part of their life. Please consider using your voice to advocate for a kiddo in your community!
For more information visit neincasa.net or call 636-6101.