By Leslie Dunn, State Director of GAL/CASA | Indiana Office of Court Services
The State Office of GAL/CASA and the Legislative Committee of the GAL/CASA Advisory Commission held CASA Day at the State House on March 19, 2019, to share information with legislators about the importance of best-interest advocacy for children. A breakfast for legislators was provided outside of the Supreme Court chambers and included special guest Supreme Court Justice Steven David. Over fifty legislators stopped by to talk to GAL/CASA program directors from around the state about the advocacy efforts of GAL/CASA volunteers in child abuse and neglect cases.
After the breakfast meeting, program directors and volunteers assembled at the government center to hear advice from an advocate about talking with legislators. State GAL/CASA Director Leslie Dunn also spoke to the group about key legislative issues impacting children and the role that a GAL/CASA plays in advocating for the best interests of children.
More than 450 volunteers from across the state wearing blue CASA t-shirts filled the north atrium of the State House carrying banners and chanting, “We are the voice of the child.” Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush opened the rally by thanking CASA volunteers for advocating on behalf of more than 26,000 abused and neglected children in 2018. She also emphasized the importance of the work of GAL/CASA volunteers in the judicial process.
Senate President pro tem Rodric Bray also thanked the volunteers for their invaluable work and shared information about the legislative session. House Representative Wendy McNamara, the chair-woman of the Child Services Oversight Committee, a committee of Indiana’s Commission on the Improvement of the Status of Children, spoke about the role of her committee in improving the child welfare system.
Two foster youth spoke briefly about how meaningful and helpful their CASA volunteers are to them. One former foster youth, who now serves as a CASA himself, also spoke about the difference an advocate can make in the life of a child.
After the CASA rally, volunteers were invited onto the House floor and Representative McNamara asked for a moment of privilege to recognize the CASA volunteers in the chamber for CASA Day. Several legislators, including Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, thanked the GAL/CASA volunteers for the invaluable service that they provide to the State of Indiana and its most vulnerable children.
Since receiving additional funding from the Indiana General Assembly, the GAL/CASA network has expanded into several additional counties and now has programs in 91% of Indiana counties. In 2018, GAL/CASA programs reduced by 40% the number of children waiting for an advocate across the state. The State Office and local programs have also implemented a statewide case management system to track child welfare cases and to provide quality data on the children they serve. In 2018, there were over 4,700 volunteers in 84 Indiana counties advocating on behalf of 26,431 children.