ELKHART — On Aug. 1, Magistrate Deborah Domine swore in seven community members as Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children.
Family and friends gathered in the Elkhart County Courthouse to watch Mackenzie Murphy, Denise Schott, Cathy Heath, Carly Quick, Aaron Anderson, Kyla Wolferman and Annika Pairitz take an oath promising to advocate for the best interest of the child.
The newly appointed CASA volunteers join 80 other community members who have been trained and are advocating for children in the county’s juvenile court system. As officers of the court, CASA officials explained, they ensure that the children’s voice and needs are recognized, and best interests are considered both in the courtroom and in the community.
CASA volunteers are asked to meet with the child on a monthly basis and are authorized to interview people in the child’s life, including social workers, attorneys and teachers. They attend court hearings for and with the child and report their findings to the judge.
“Our volunteers pledge to stay with each child until the case is closed, and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home," said Justin Allen, director of the Elkhart County CASA Program. "The advocate is often the only consistent adult presence in the child’s life.”
More advocates are still needed to help maintain the program’s zero waitlist, a goal that was reached earlier this year, for the first time in the history of Elkhart County’s CASA, CASA officials wrote in a statement. There are no prerequisites for becoming a CASA volunteer other than being at least 21 years of age, clearing an extensive background screening and successfully completing 34 hours of initial training.
The next advocate training session for Elkhart County begins Sept. 4, from 6-9 p.m. Those who are interested in learning more about becoming a CASA volunteer should contact Helen Calvin at 574-522-1998, ext. 285, or go online to www.capselkhart.org/programs/casa.