Child advocate volunteers needed in St. Joseph County - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Child advocate volunteers needed in St. Joseph County

St. Joseph County is in need of volunteers to help advocate for abused and neglected children. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of St. Joseph County says they only have enough volunteers to reach a little over a third of the children in need each year. According to CASA, there are 500 children in the County without an advocate. St. Joseph County currently has the longest waiting list for advocates in the state.

Special advocate volunteers are there to make informed recommendations to the court in order to help judges make the best decision for children. The volunteers meet with the child, family members, officials, and anyone else connected with the child before making recommendations.

JoAnn McKenzie became a CASA in 2013. She represents three children who vary from the ages of 7-11 in child welfare and family court systems. "They're normal kids. They want me to take them to McDonald's. That's what I can do to help them," she said.

CASA volunteers also review all records such as school and medical as well as attending court hearings with a lawyer. "My job for them is to tell them they're great kids, they're going to be fine, they're going to get through this," she said. "I'm their friend. I'm the constant in their life."

McKenzie says this opportunity met everything she was looking for when after she retired. "I wanted to volunteer. I wanted to give back to my community. And I really wanted to be needed. "

St. Joseph County Probate Court Magistrate Aric Rutkowski oversees and hears CASA volunteers in the courtroom. He says the CASA volunteers are the voice of the child. "The more people that I think we can get involved in the case that truly are concerned about the welfare of the child the better off the system works," he said.

CASA volunteers receive 35 hours of training. The training includes sitting in on court hearings, learning how to observe families and write reports. CASA Program Executive Director Brenda Matuszkiewicz says this training is extremely important for the volunteers. "Unfortunately we're involved in their lives and the family's lives at one of the most difficult points that they'll probably ever experience," she said.

CASA of St. Joseph County provides training for the volunteers, along with ongoing support. If you would like to be a part of the program, you can sign up now. Call the CASA office at 574-333-CASA (2272) or visit their website to download an application. The next training session begins July 8.

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