Child Advocates, Inc. (CAI) is a private nonprofit organization in Indianapolis that mobilizes Court Appointed Advocate volunteers to break the cycle of child abuse. We speak up for abused children who are lost in the system and guide them into safe environments where they can thrive. Volunteers serve children involved in the juvenile court system once appointed to a child’s case by a juvenile court judge. This means that our volunteers have the legal status, giving them the power to affect real change in the life of a child.
What happens to children who fall through the cracks in the system?
So often we end up seeing them on the five o’clock news, once they’ve been abused to death or acted out their pain on society by committing a crime. It is estimated that 85% of inmates were abused or neglected as children, making it difficult to ignore the strong correlation between untreated child abuse and dysfunctional adult behavior. These are the children who often do not know what it is like to be in a healthy and loving family. They do not receive help to deal with the trauma they have suffered and they don’t learn how to trust, cope and grow beyond the circumstances of their childhood, often perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Child Advocates is an effective solution to the epidemic of child abuse because one volunteer is focused on the well being of one child.
How does Child Advocates operate?
Our work begins after children who have experienced life-threatening abuse or neglect are removed from their home by CPS and placed into a foster home. These children will remain in foster care until a Marion County judge decides where they will live on a permanent basis. State law sets a 22 month period for parents to reunite with children. If the parents have completed services, within 15 of the 22 months, termination of parental rights may be dropped. Our services may be requested by any party to the case, including the judge, the child’s parents or even one of the children.
Each of our volunteers has completed a 30-hour training course taught by Child Advocates staff. After graduating from the training course, clearing all background checks and being sworn in by a judge, the volunteers are assigned to a case under the supervision of one of Child Advocates’ professional caseworkers, known as a Guardians Ad Litem (GALs).
Teaming each Guardian Ad Litem with many court appointed volunteers enables each volunteer to concentrate 100 percent of his or her time and energy on only one case while allowing for constant advice, guidance and problem solving assistance from an expert in the field. Using this approach, Child Advocates is able to leverage each paid professional social worker through many passionate volunteers to serve more children without incurring additional staffing costs.
What does a court appointed advocate do?
Once appointed by a judge, our court appointed advocate volunteers begin a process of information gathering with the goal of guiding abused children out of the foster care system, identifying the child’s needs and ensuring rehabilitative services. They act as a communications link between the child and the juvenile courts. Volunteers gather all the pertinent information about their child’s case and make recommendations to the judge based on that information.
Volunteers provide a continuum of services customized to meet each child’s needs. They locate vital therapeutic and rehabilitative services for the children we serve to help them deal with the trauma of abuse. Services range from psychological treatment, to educational assistance, and parent/family education.
Volunteers work in tandem with a staff Guardian Ad Litem who guides their casework and supports the efforts of the volunteer. Our staff members have expertise in working on behalf of abused children and are there to coach the volunteer through casework, court, working with the child and families and all other aspects of their volunteer role.
What type of person makes a good Child Advocates volunteer?
Volunteers come from all careers, cultures, educational backgrounds, ages, and experiences – that’s what makes this program work. The primary requirements for being a court appointed advocate volunteer with Child Advocates are that you have a genuine interest in the well being of children, are a proactive communicator and complete our training course. Court appointed advocate volunteers are objective, responsible, committed, persistent and understand the important role they have in a child’s life. Both men and women are needed as volunteers and you need to be at least 21 years of age.
How much time does it take to be a Child Advocates’ volunteer?
In the same amount of time you spend each week doing something ordinary, like attending a movie, you can do something extraordinary: change the life of an abused child. Volunteers average 5-8 hours per month.