SULLIVAN COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — So far in 2023, 51 children have been removed from their homes in Sullivan County due to abuse or neglect.

Advocating for those children is a CASA or a Court Appointed Special Advocate.

“I hope that each child that I’ve been able to work with as a CASA has a better life because someone was there, offering a path forward, offering insights into the needs of that child, making sure that they have therapy, making sure that they have the things they need so that they can live a full happy life,” Lance Newton, CASA volunteer said.

Volunteer hours, Newton said, are not hours given up. “It’s time we invest into kids. Playing and talking and just learning about these kids and letting them know, there are adults who care and who are in it for them.”

Sullivan County CASA began back in 2018 to represent children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.

Prior to becoming a CASA volunteer, Newton was a foster parent. Some of the children he fostered had a CASA, some did not.

“Those cases really did stick with me because there were some times our kiddo really could’ve benefited from having their voice shared, by one dedicated person,” Newton said.

That’s something Deanna Fathauer, Sullivan County’s CASA director wants to change, “We, as CASA in Sullivan County, are serving approximately 73% of those children. So, our goal is to serve 100%.”

Currently, 11 volunteers serve Sullivan County and they’re looking for more to help bridge the gap.

Fathauer said CASA volunteers usually see the kids once or twice a month.

“During those visits, we get to know the child, we get to know what their wishes are we also get to know what their needs are. Often times these children have not had medical care, they’ve maybe not had IEP’s (Individual Education Plan) established at school they maybe haven’t had dental care, some of the basic things that have resulted in their removal,” she said.

A CASA is uniquely focused on the child alone. They represent and protect the best interest of the child through research, examining, advocating, facilitating, and monitoring.

“We monitor the services that are provided for the children and the parents. We talk to the child, we get to know the child and know what their wishes are,” Fathauer said. Sometimes their wishes aren’t possible, but we still advocate for what’s the best for them to make sure that when they do return, their needs are going to be met, both physical, emotional, educational so that they do not return to the system of abuse and neglect,” she added.

What does it mean to these children to have a CASA?

“It means the world, because they have been let down by adults a lot,” Fathauer said. “And no matter where they go within this process, the CASA can come along with them.”

Newton said, for him, one of the biggest things is, “When we get to reunify. And when things have come full circle and where parents have come to where they can offer a safe home, so, everything comes together. You see growth, you see all the love in the midst of that and that’s such a beautiful thing to be a part of.”

Sullivan County CASA is looking for more volunteers to represent and protect the best interest of a child in need. Sullivan County CASA will hold its next training in January of 2024.

For more information on CASA contact Dee Fathauer at 812-564-8690. To fill out an application to become a CASA volunteer in Sullivan County click here.