LIMA — Whenever children have to come to court, whether it would be to deal with a custody battle or an abusive situation, it helps to have someone in their corner.
That is the mission of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, a nationwide organization dedicated to providing children with a voice in a courtroom setting. Locally, CASA has a presence in Allen and Putnam counties. While Putnam County advocates deal mainly with custody cases, some 50 volunteer advocates in Allen County deal with a wider variety of situations.
“In Allen County, when a child comes through for abuse, neglect or dependency, which means that the child can’t take care of themselves maybe not willfully on the parent’s part, the court will assign either an attorney, guardian or a CASA, which is where we come in,” said Tim Thurston, director of CASA of Allen and Putnam County.
An advocate walks the child through the entire courtroom process, typically between 18 months and two years.
“There are several hearings, particularly in the early part of the case, along with following up with at least monthly meetings with the child and the family to see how they’re doing, see if case plans are being followed and if the child is safe and doing well in their location,” Thurston said. “We want to let the judge know our comments, reports and recommendations as to what would be best for the child in that situation.”
Cindy Martin, of Lima, has been an advocate for five years. She said that while the work can be challenging, it can be very rewarding. When it comes to helping a child, however, Martin emphasized that it is a process.
“It takes kids a long time to open up to you,” she said. “Just like any other relationship, it takes time. They come to appreciate the time you spend with them.”
Anyone with a heart for children in need can make a good advocate, according to both Martin and Thurston.
“No matter what age or walk of life they are, there’s no right or wrong person for this,” Martin said.
“The pure requirements are that you have to be 21 years of age and have a driver’s license,” Thurston said. “Apart from that, we’re just looking for people with a passion to help children.”