Madison County CASA looks for volunteers as need increases

ANDERSON, Ind. – Madison County ranks fifth in the state for child abuse and neglect.

And as those cases rise, CASA–court-appointed special advocates–could use more volunteers.

CASA volunteers are advocates for children who are abused and neglected and end up in the child welfare system not because of anything they have done, but because of actions directed at them.

Nellie Elsten has been a voice for abused or neglected children for 53 years.

“When you think you’ve seen it all until something happens and you realize you haven’t,” said Elsten.

Elsten worked for the Department of Child Services.  She’s now an advocate for kids in her community.

“Lots of tragedies, lots of neglected and abused children. Babies lying in hospitals. It’s hard to watch,” she said.

What’s making it harder for her, along with the other volunteers, is the sheer number of cases.

“In 2016 they just exploded. Our case numbers went up dramatically,” said Annette Craycraft, the executive director of East Central Indiana CASA.

Craycraft says, in just the first two weeks of the year, they have 20 to 25 new cases already.  Both women agree it’s an alarming start.

“In the olden days when I was working, it was large families, dirty houses and alcohol. Now, it’s drugs,” said Elsten.

When you look at the past three years, the total number of cases dropped by a few hundred.

  • 2016: 1,380
  • 2017: 1,290
  • 2018: 1,144

However, Craycraft says that’s not enough because they still don’t have enough volunteers.  In 2018, there were still 1,144 children who needed help.  She expects caseloads in 2019 to be higher.

“At the end of last year, we had about 520 for both counties. We ended Madison County with about 400 children on a waiting list,” said Craycraft.

They need advocates so children can have a voice. East Central Indiana CASA has about 90 volunteers, but Craycraft says they could use about 200.

“Caseworkers cannot say a lot of things in court that need to be said, but a CASA can. You can just say it like it is, and our judges listen,” Elsten said.

Craycraft stressed that CASA isn’t for everyone. She encouraged those who are interested to reach out. Click here to visit the CASA website for contact information and more about how to become an advocate. The next training class begins on April 24.

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