Beverly Haynes, director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates office, spoke to members of the Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce during their Thursday meeting about the CASA program.
"Volunteers are the highlight of life," she said as she passed out highlighters with the saying on it.
She said they're the basis of the CASA program, which strives to provide advocates for abused and/or neglected children involved in the court system. Haynes said she works with 28-32 volunteers a year. She said the CASA volunteer positions are part time, and volunteers could do it in 10 hours a month as they get used to it.
The volunteers are required to go through a 30-hour training program. They investigate child abuse and neglect cases as an impartial third party. They examine all the evidence available to them and make a recommendation to the juvenile court judge. CASA volunteers have to be good researchers and committed, she said.
"The judge needs to know everything you can glean to make a decision," Haynes said.
CASAs are not legal counsel, she emphasized, and do not have to write legal reports. They are required to testify in court, she said, which can sometimes be intimidating. However, she said, both the court and the families involved in the proceedings appreciate the CASAs' efforts.
"Having a third party is well received," she said.
"CASA volunteers get a lot of gratification."
Haynes described a case in which a teen mother in foster care had a visit from a CASA, and the volunteer asked to hold the baby. She noticed spots on the baby and asked to see its room. The mother and baby were living in a basement room next to another room used as a dog kennel, and the spots turned out to be flea bites.
"The child was moved within three or four hours," Haynes said. "The department responded immediately and never used that (foster) agency again."
In another case, she said, a teenage girl was moved to foster care in a larger city. She enjoyed it and didn't want to return to her home when her parents corrected their problems. The CASA pointed out that the parents had worked very hard to be able to bring their daughter home. When the girl realized that, she went back to her parents.
The point of her examples, Haynes said, was to point out that CASAs can do extreme things or simple things that make a difference in the lives of families.
In Greene County, there are more than 30 child abuse/neglect cases per 1,000 in the population. That's more than 2.5 times the national average, according to Haynes. She said although the numbers look bad, it just shows that the Greene County Department of Child Services is doing its job. They worked with 84 children last year.
Haynes said they see everything from shaken baby syndrome to sexual abuse and pornography cases. However, she said they see more neglect that abuse cases.
She said 60 percent of Judge David Johnson's case load is juvenile cases. She said cases are reviewed every three months -- the newly recommended time period -- versus every six months like they used to be.
"We have a lot of children in need of real special care," Haynes said.
In Indiana last year, 57 children died from abuse or neglect, and one of those was in Greene County, Haynes said.
"I thought it was bad enough when we had 45 and put crosses at the courtyard and put children's little clothes on them," she said.
To become a CASA volunteer, people can contact Haynes. She said there's always a need for more volunteers, especially men.
In addition, she said another way to help would be to volunteer to be on a new nonprofit board that will be a fundraising arm for the CASA program. Karen Smith will be organizing that, Haynes said. She also suggested that a Child Abuse Prevention Council would be useful. Haynes can be reached at 384-2036 or email@example.com.
The publisher of Greene County's newest weekly paper, The Bloomfield Free Press, also spoke briefly at the chamber meeting. R. Michael Johnson said the paper was created to serve residents in Bloomfield and the eastern part of the county. He said the chamber has the support of the paper, and they'll print free ads and maps for the townwide yard sale.
The Bloomfield Free Press is the newest chamber member, according to chamber President Terri Coker.
"The paper went real well," she said. "I'm out at the Picnic Basket."
Free now, there will be a $1 per week rate for the paper later, according to Johnson. He said they'll be hand-delivered in town and mailed to other subscribers.
Upcoming dates for the chamber are:
* April 8 Easter egg hunt at the city park at 1 p.m. Coker said 3,000 eggs will be hidden, and volunteers are needed to hide the eggs. Prizes will be given to boys and girls in each age group. There will be drawings for eight bikes and baskets.
* May 19-20 Relay for Life at the Worthington city park.