TERRE HAUTE —
If you agree that not much is sadder — and potentially more unsettling to our society — than a child torn from his or her home, here is a way you can make a difference, one kid at a time.
You can advocate for a child who ends up in court because parents or guardians can’t keep their own lives together — whether because of broken relationships, crime, drug or alcohol obsession, domestic violence, poverty, physical or mental illness, or, likely, a combination of those factors.
You can understand how this child is scared, alone and adrift, as the mysteries of the legal system play out before young eyes. The child sees sanctions imposed on the adults to whom he or she has looked for at least some protection and assurance. Even in the worst family relationship, kids hang on to any remnant of support they can find.
Some of these children may themselves be the object of court action because of unacceptable behavior that has landed them in trouble. Imagine, for instance, a 9-year-old headed to institutionalization because of uncontrolled and continuing outbursts of anger, bullying and violent threats. It happens.
No matter their individual circumstance, such children need advocates, if their lives are to be redirected before they are lost to a cycle of abuse, poverty, crime and despair. It’s hard work, but such lives, we at least hope, can be repaired.
This is where many social and religious agencies step in, but most especially the Court Appointed Special Advocate program — CASA — about which our reporter Lisa Trigg wrote on our front page on Friday. Luckily, Vigo County has a CASA program, as do many other counties on both sides of the state line. Vigo’s program has existed since 1989.
Nationally, CASA units exist in 951 communities, serving 238,000 abused or neglected children. A juvenile court judge in Seattle started the idea in 1977, and, as the need has grown in the nearly 40 years since, so have the number of CASA units.
But as in so many critical areas of our society, the need far exceeds the response. In Vigo County, 123 good souls are advocating for 407 children, which is laudable. But the dark lining to that silver cloud is that about 130 children in Vigo County are now without advocates because there are not enough volunteers. We suspect a shortage of CASA volunteers also exists in other Wabash Valley counties.
So, the immediate need is for 130 Vigo Countians to step up as volunteer advocates. And that number will continue to grow. Already in the first six months of 2014, Vigo’s CASA unit has served nearly as many children as in all of 2013. The need will be ongoing and growing.
The task of gaining 130 advocates may appear insurmountable, but not when one considers the reservoir of caring persons — some retired with perhaps time on their hands, some already overbooked but willing to squeeze in one more thing.
It’s not an easy commitment. To become a CASA, one must take 30 hours of training and be willing to check in with the child at least once a month, which seems minimal to maintain any level of personal contact. And it means tough skin and a caring heart.
The family situations will not be pretty, but they can be softened for the child by showing concern, constancy, loyalty and even family affection.
This is not a call to bleeding-heart liberalism or idle social do-goodism. This is hard but rewarding work that requires a real, caring, person-to-person, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-my-kid response, the kind of family-value reaction to threats we have all come to expect from our fellow Hoosiers and Illinoisans.
What it comes down to is one committed adult — you? — to match up with one vulnerable child to help give that child a better chance to succeed.
Or, as the national CASA says in its mission statement, “the opportunity to thrive.”