What started as an item on her bucket list became a reality four years ago. Judy Rensch was in a courtroom serving as a juror when she was moved to become an advocate for children.
“I sat in that courtroom and watched a little girl have to go through some pretty serious court proceedings. I kept thinking about her and wondered who would speak for her or advocate for her needs,” Judy recalls. “It was heartbreaking to think of how overwhelming it all had to be for her and how scared she may have been. I knew there was something I could do. That’s when I looked into becoming a CASA.”
Northeastern Indiana CASA serves Noble, Lagrange, Dekalb, Steuben and Whitley counties by providing court appointed special advocates (CASA) for children who are facing judicial proceedings. These adult volunteers work with children and their families to assess the child’s situation and offer valuable insights and evaluations for judges and judicial authorities.
Volunteers can expect to complete an application before attending training sessions before officially taking up the role as a CASA. Training equips volunteers for cases by helping them know how to interact with court reports and at hearings as well as how to conduct interviews with teachers, family members, and other individuals who have encounters with the child.
“It’s a rewarding job,” said Judy. “To know you are a part of their life in such a positive way. As a volunteer I am able to help that child be in the best situation possible – someplace they are safe and somewhere they can feel at home.”
Although some situations end with the child being removed from their home due to court decisions, there are some occasions where parents meet court guidelines in order to have their children returned. Judy said this is something she celebrates.
“I praise the parents that do the hard work needed to get their children back. Even when we are going through the case, I try to be very positive with the parents and cheer them on if they are trying to do the right thing.”
Unfortunately, statistics have shown that children who grow up in volatile homes are more likely to create a volatile home as an adult, perpetuating the destructive, unstable environment they have come to know. This can create a cyclical pattern from generation to generation. However, Judy said she sees CASAs as a “beacon of hope” that can turn the tide for the child.
“The need is there. There are so many children who need us and need more of us,” said Judy. “These parents are lost and so many times you find out they are only repeating what they know from when they were kids. But when we get involved, we can change all of that for the child we are helping. We have the chance to change things for generations to come. We can break that generational curse.”
One of the challenges for a child in these types of cases is the revolving door of service providers. While counselors change and even healthcare providers are different, a CASA is sometimes the only constant face in the middle of a turbulent time for a child.
“There’s a lot of changing faces,” said Judy. “The case can stretch on for a while and that child may see several different people. That in and of itself is hard to deal with if you’re a child and you aren’t really sure what’s going on. When we as CASAs are in the picture, we are the constant smile, the constant friend, the constant face that these kids can depend on.”
Judy went on to say that her influence in the courtroom is vital to the child’s future. As she builds a rapport with the child and learns more about who and what influences her case, she sees the importance of CASAs who offer feedback to the judges.
“I was amazed at how much say we have in the case. The judges really listen to us. That makes me even more motivated to be detailed in my reporting and to really give each case my all. I want to know the ins and outs so that I can really be the best advocate for this child.”
Understanding the importance of a CASA’s role would seem to imply days of paperwork and many long hours in the courtroom. However, Judy said her experience has been more manageable than she expected. With interviews and visits she can schedule on her own time, Judy is able to spend about four to six hours a month on her given case.
“I know there are people out there that want to make a difference but might be hesitant because they don’t feel like they can do it,” Judy said. “But I am here to tell you it is doable. You aren’t alone. There is support and training to guide you through. More importantly, you are needed. There are so many children who are waiting for a CASA but there are not enough volunteers for them. You’re making a difference in the life of a child. You’re making a difference in the future of that child. You’re making a difference right in your own community. You’re getting a chance to be a solution to the problem.”
A fall training session will be offered September 17th in Albion, Ind. Community members who are interested in volunteering should start by completing an application by visiting www.neincasa.net or by contacting Northeastern Indiana CASA at 260-636-6101 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org