By Leslie Dunn, State Director of GAL/CASA | Office of Court Services
On March 4 (before the pandemic required social distancing), over 400 Court Appointed Special Advocate and Guardian Ad Litem volunteers and staff gathered at the Statehouse to celebrate 30 years of best-interest advocacy for abused and neglected children and to thank the legislature for their ongoing support. Event speakers included Chief Justice Loretta Rush; State Director Leslie Dunn; and Executive Director of Advocates for Children in Columbus Therese Miller, the longest serving CASA Director in the state.
Two former foster youth shared the impact that their advocates had on their lives.
Current foster youth Kenneth, from Madison County, spoke of the strong bond he had with his CASA and how she was the only consistent person in his life. His CASA encouraged him to go to college, and he plans to do just that.
De’Coriyanna Garrett—a former foster youth, turned advocate—shared the difference her advocate made in her life. As Garrett became a teenager, she says the reality of still being in foster care made her feel sad, depressed, alone, and that her voice didn’t matter.
When my advocate came on board, those feelings started to go away. Her consistent visits let me know she cared about me and my feelings. Not only did she encourage me to stand for what I wanted, she listened to my opinions, spoke up for me when I needed her to, and made sure my voice was finally heard.”
Although some GAL/CASA programs in Indiana were created as early as 1982, the State Office of GAL/CASA was created by the legislature in 1989 and started operating with state funding in 1990.
When the State Office was created, there were 22 CASA programs serving children in 30 counties in Indiana. Since then, the State Office has started volunteer programs in 56 additional counties. There are currently 71 volunteer programs serving 86 counties.
Counties with GAL/CASA volunteer programs
The State Office provides grant funds, certifies local volunteer programs, and develops new programs across the State. Trainings and large annual conferences are made available to staff and volunteers.
Volunteers play a critical role in helping abused and neglected children; they spend time with children involved in Child in Need of Services cases to ascertain their needs and provide child-focused recommendations to the court as to what is in each child’s best interest.
In 2005, the legislature changed the law requiring courts to appoint a GAL/CASA advocate to make best interest recommendations for every abused and neglected child in every CHINS case. The legislature increased funding for volunteer-based programs on several occasions to assist with this change.
The GAL/CASA network has more than doubled the number of active volunteers, increasing from 1,940 volunteers in 2005 to 4,491 volunteers in 2019. During the same time, the number of counties with a certified GAL/CASA program went from 50 to 86, an increase of 72%.
Active Indiana GAL/CASA volunteers 2005-2019
At the height of the increase in CHINS cases, there were over 6,000 children waiting for a volunteer at the end of 2016. By the end of 2019, the waiting list decreased by 54% down to 2,821 children, with support from the legislature, Indiana Supreme Court, and local county funding bodies.
Children served by GAL/CASA programs