Advocates

CASA: Despite pandemic, system worked for abused, neglected kids

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Over a computer screen a thousand miles from the courtroom, Jane Christophersen watched the judge gavel in an adoption hearing.

The five-year long case had winded its way through the courts in Crawfordsville before the pre-adoptive parents moved to Florida, where the children Christophersen represented in the Montgomery County Court Appointed Special Advocates program were finding a permanent home.

“So that was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult year,” said Christophersen, director of the program, which advocates for children in abuse or neglect cases and is affiliated with the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau.

The coronavirus pandemic forced CASA, like the rest of the court system, to go virtual. Staff and volunteers attended court hearings and met clients over Zoom and FaceTime when they couldn’t get together outdoors for socially-distanced gatherings.

More than 50 volunteers advocated for 220 children last year, with a hundred sent to permanent homes, according to the program’s year-end statistics.

Of those, 58 children reunited with a parent, 16 were adopted and 14 were placed in the custody of a guardian. Two children aged out of the program.

The statistics nearly match the previous year when volunteers represented 219 children and 96 found permanency.

Though advocates were concerned at first that abuse and neglect cases would go unreported because of the disruption to schools, “the consistency … in numbers shows that the system continued to do its work,” Christophersen said.

CASA staff praised the Department of Child Services case workers who investigated reports of abuse and neglect amid the pandemic.

The virus had little impact on recruiting volunteers to handle cases. Staff used social media to share information and held virtual training sessions. Another virtual training is slated for March.

“I feel like the pandemic didn’t really affect getting volunteers, we just recruited them in a little bit different ways,” volunteer coordinator Kate Doty said.

The number of children waiting for a CASA constantly fluctuates as court hearings are scheduled. For more information about volunteering, contact Doty at 765-362-0694, ext. 106, or email kate@mcysb.org.

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