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Indiana law requires the appointment of either a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or a trained Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in abuse and neglect cases under certain circumstances and provides for discretionary appointment in others. If a child is alleged to be a Child In Need of Services (CHINS) because he presents a risk to himself or others, is born with drugs or alcohol in his system or is at-risk as a result of pre-natal substance abuse, is not receiving appropriate medical care or the whereabouts of his parent is unknown, the court should appoint a Guardian Ad Litem or CASA. The Court has the discretion to appoint a GAL or CASA if the petition alleges other statutory standards for a Child In Need of Services, but shall appoint if the parent, guardian, or custodian of the child denies the allegations of a petition. Moreover, if a child becomes the subject of a petition to terminate the parent/child relationship and the parent objects, the court must appoint a GAL or CASA for the child. In addition to abuse and neglect cases, Indiana law allows for, and some Indiana courts are now appointing CASA volunteers in custody and paternity cases. Although the number of volunteers who provide an invaluable service to Indiana trial courts is remarkable, the need for more volunteers is still unmet.
CASA volunteers undergo a thorough training process conducted by the local CASA program. Locally, volunteers receive 35 hours of training offered by a variety of professionals who contribute their training services to the program. Training topics include: Introduction to the Child Welfare System, Juvenile Court System, Child Development, Cultural Competence, Effective Communication, Sexual Victimization and Perpetration, and an ongoing emphasis on the roles and responsibilities of the CASA volunteer. Additionally, the local program follows the National CASA Association Volunteer Training Curriculum.
"CASA volunteers serve as the eyes and ears of the Court. They are to be commended for their interest and dedication in advocating for children. Protecting the best interest of the child is the overriding concern of every CASA volunteer." (Hon. Peter J. Nemeth, Judge, St. Joseph Probate Court) "The CASAs services are very much needed for the welfare of these children. Thank you for your dedication to these children. I can certainly understand why you want the CASA back in St. Joseph County to be reassigned to another family. She has done an outstanding job and certainly has the children's interest at heart." (Hon. Michael D. Cook, Former Judge, Marshall Circuit Court) Local Facts: During 2017, 428 children were served by 142 volunteers who contributed approximately 25,680 hours. Locally, the CASA Program of St. Joseph County is administered by the St. Joseph Probate Court.