“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” CASAs believe that every child has the right to live a safe and healthy life, free from abuse and neglect. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, and these individuals go above and beyond as volunteers. At first, some people may have gravitated to CASA because of their strong desire to give back, but what keeps volunteers engaged are the additional benefits that are unique to being a CASA volunteer. These benefits help to strengthen the volunteers’ commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable children.
Sarah Fink is the Program Director for the Porter County CASA Program. She says volunteering for this organization is rewarding.
“The most unique thing about the experience of being a CASA volunteer is the children themselves,” said Fink. “You are always better for having gotten to know each child that you represent. As a CASA, I have never met a child who didn’t inspire or awe me to some degree. Being a CASA gives you the opportunity to learn more about yourself, about others, and about life in general as you have the privilege of getting to know and represent these children who are each magnificent.”
CASA volunteers are appointed by the court to advocate on the child’s behalf. They get to know the children to better understand their needs. Each volunteer meets with the child at least once a month. They form relationships with child welfare professionals and service providers to know what progress is being made toward placing a child in a safe, permanent home. CASAs write reports for court and make fact-based recommendations based on what is in the best interest of the child.
Lisa Stressler is an active volunteer and says people question why she would want to get involved in problematic family relationships.
“CASAs give a voice to children who, through no fault of their own, have become embroiled in the juvenile court system,” said Stressler. “The children CASAs represent are thrust into a world of confusion and uncertainty because the adults around them have made poor choices, have committed crimes, or have endangered their children in some way. These children have committed no offense. These children have little voice, limited input, and negligible control over decisions that directly impact them.”
Stressler says CASAs truly make a difference in the children’s lives.
“CASAs spend time with each of the children we represent. We get to know them as individuals, we listen to their stories, we try, to the best of our ability, to allow their needs, their desires, and their voice to be expressed in the courtroom. We not only get to know the children we represent, but we get to know the people who surround them. CASAs, through our court appointment, can and do interview all the people around the child. Parents, grandparents, teachers, counselors, social workers, babysitters, in fact, whomever has regular contact with the child and can help us gain a deeper understanding of the needs of the child and what their life entails,” said Stressler.
Stressler says she is driven by her passion to help others, especially the voiceless.
“The men and women who become CASAs are members of the community. They run the gamut from younger people who are considering entering social work as a career, to working men and women who want to give back something to their community, to retirees looking for something that allows them to remain engaged and challenged. Personally, I am driven by the desire to help the voiceless, the innocent children who might otherwise not have their needs represented by someone who has had the opportunity to get to know them and their particular challenges,” said Stressler.
Rob Maciel has been a CASA for three years and says the program is vital to Porter County communities.
“I can’t express how vulnerable children are in the situations they’re thrown into, notwithstanding they’ve already been abused or neglected and detained,” said Maciel. “Being a CASA is something much bigger than you, so you make every effort to fulfill your mission of acting in the child’s best interest.”
Each CASA completes 30 hours of training prior to volunteering, including court observation. They complete continuing education, hosted by Porter County CASA, and are notified when other trainings are held by other community organizations. The CASA program offers peer support events where fellow CASAs can come together and discuss their experiences. The Juvenile Court Magistrate oversees the swearing-in of new CASAs and is grateful for new volunteers that wish to help the children.
Becoming a CASA shapes you into a different person. With every child you meet, they fuel your mission to help in any way possible. Last year, Porter County CASA served nearly 400 children whose families needed court intervention because of abuse or neglect. Every child deserves respect, happiness, and safety.
Becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate is an investment of time, energy, and heart. However, many volunteers have said the following about the children they serve: "It wasn't about what I gave them, it was what they showed me."
Valparaiso, IN 46383
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