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A Look Back at 28 Years of Advocating for Children

Posted on March 16th, 2015

???????????????????????????????This post comes directly from our most veteran employee, Carolyn Thurston. I have the pleasure of working across the hall from her every day. She is an amazing wealth of knowledge about our program and the child welfare system. I hope you enjoy her look back at our beginning as much as I did….

In June 94’ I started at Child Advocates as GAL (Guardian Ad Litem). At the time I had been a volunteer for 7-8 years. When I first started as a volunteer it was called the Guardian Ad Litem Project. I was a member of the Junior League of Indianapolis and I was asked to head a project (GAL Project). The National Council of Jewish Women asked the Junior League to make a 3 year commitment to the GAL Project. I was asked to be the Chairman of this project.

As Chairman of this project, I brought the first volunteer class to the GAL project. At the time they did have some volunteers, but did not have formalized classes.

When I started in 94 my case load was “wow”. We had hundreds of children. We were not appointed to every child at that time. In the early years we would have 300-350 kids per GAL. It was so different then. We were not using emailing, internet, etc. Someone would answer the phone and use pink slips that said “while you were away.” A lot of our actual work was phoning and checking in. There were not a lot of meetings. It was purely seeing the kids and doing visits. We were able to make oral reports. At that time we did not do any written submitted reports. I think written reports came about because of accountability

In the early years we were struggling to find money to officially have 1 advocate per courtroom. Each courtroom had only 1 CHINS docket. Then we had 4 courtrooms and 4 CHINS dockets. It was like that for a very long time.

In 2005, the law changed and we were appointed to every Child In Need Of Service (CHINS case). That’s when the wait list started to develop. The standard for seeing the kids had also been ramped up at that time. We didn’t have a “standard” for how often we saw the kids. At that time, and for some years after, we were also representing the delinquents. Our caseloads included CHINS and many delinquents. Advocating for delinquents wasn’t as deep of an involvement as the CHINS, but mostly it was about providing the representation they needed in the courtroom to speak on their best interest. We talked to and worked with probation officers. We helped secure placements for them. We saw some of them in their homes. However, we didn’t have quite the responsibly to them as the CHINS. As the CHINS cases numbers grew to be so massive, we could not continue to provide both services.

When Cindy Booth, Executive Director, was working on securing increased funding in 2007, we were able to increase the number of advocates to take on some additional cases. The wait list went away in April of 2012. Cindy had secured additional funding from Juvenile Court and was able to bring on more advocates to take on these children sitting on the waiting list.

The biggest difference in working in ’94 to now was that in ‘94 we were a mom and pop shop. Everyone was a jack of all trades and we were struggling to keep our heads above water. The motto was “what I can I do for you?” Everyone was filling all tasks and taking on all jobs. We all knew one another’s caseloads pretty intimately. We spent so much time at Juvenile Court that we knew all the court personnel.

Today a typical case load is around 180-200. This has to do with the recent massive influx of kids into the system.

When I look back and it’s been 28 years or so that I have done this, I think about how I started out as a volunteer. I had taught for 10 years and then was home with my kids for 14. Being a volunteer child advocate was one of my many volunteer activities as an at home mother. It was just one of them. No matter how busy I got with things in my life, I always wanted to keep this volunteer work. In 1994 my husband left his place of employment and decided to start his own business. We agreed I should also get a job for additional security.

I spoke to my GAL supervisor and told her I may have to cut back on my cases because I needed to get a full time job. At that point they were restructuring and looking to hire another advocate. The very next day I went to GAL offices and we discussed pay. I went from 14 years home with my kids to having a job right off that bat. Doing something I loved. Years ago I used to say I envied people whose avocations could be the vocations. At some point it hit me very hard that that is exactly what I was doing. I loved advocating for kids in my free time. Then it became my job. I think that’s why I have never burned out in my 28+ years, because it’s my passion.