New courtroom dog helps children involved in abuse, neglect cases

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DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. --- The Court Appointed Special Advocate Team (CASA) in Delaware County is getting a new member. After years of training, the four legged member starts her new job this week.

Frankie is an English black lab. She's one of only two dogs in Indiana trained specifically to help ease the fears of children in courtrooms. Frankie will be in the courtroom during juvenile, criminal abuse and neglect cases, and interviews where a child might have a difficult time disclosing personal details to adults.

Frankie's presence alone is enough to calm both children and adults, but Frankie will also sit with children and allow them to pet and hug her for some extra comfort.

"Those kids need somebody by their side and it can’t always be a person," said Ashley Soldaat, Director for Delaware County CASA.

Soldaat is also Frankie's handler. She said Frankie trained at Support Dogs Inc. in St. Louis, who trained her and certified her as a facility dog. She has the same training as a service dog, but is not a therapy dog.

"I think we’re going to get a lot more disclosures. I think it’s going to encourage courage in children," Soldaat said.

Frankie is coming at a time of crucial need for help in Delaware County. In the last five years, child abuse and neglect cases have increased more than 118 percent. Soldaat said there's around 400 children currently on a waiting list that don't have advocates to help them in court.

Frankie's sweet demeanor and puppy-dog eyes will help some of those children feel more at home and comfortable in an otherwise terrifying situation, one that many children shouldn't have to go through in many cases.

Police, DCS, and the prosecutor’s office assign Frankie to cases. Talk to your investigating department if you think Frankie might be able to help your child in a case.

For more on Delaware County CASA and how you can volunteer to help children in need, click here.