Over the course of the last 44 years, CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, have dedicated themselves to serving, advocating for, and safeguarding abused and neglected children in court, and ensuring they are placed in safe, permanent homes in order for them to live happy, healthy, and productive lives.
Under the leadership of Leslie Hendricks, CASA of Grant County has become a tremendous ally for all children in need, and all of the organization’s employees and volunteers work tirelessly to be a voice for those who do not have one.
“I love working with kids – that’s all I have ever wanted to do,” CASA Supervisor and Optima Specialist Charlene Johnson said. “I love advocating for kids. I advocate for boys, girls, infants, and teenagers. Anything I can do to help my kids… that’s what I’m going to do.”
“At CASA, the tagline is ‘best interest for the child,’ and that’s what we are all about,” Family Recovery Court CASA Daniel Brainer said. “In CHINS cases, which are children in need of services, we are about fighting for the best interest of the children. We are appointed by the judge to see with our own eyes what is going on in the case, [and] then we give the perspective of the child in court.”
Each and every day, CASA works to provide independent, objective, and factual information to the court through quality court reports. These reports require an active participant in the child’s case management team who provides persistent and and regular communication with the child and all of those involved with the cases, maintains proficiency and professionalism, and strives to improve the lives of all the children they serve through education and experience. Currently, CASA of Grant County serves 169 children.
CASA volunteers usually serve six to eight hours a month and work with one or two cases, while full-time employees work double-digit cases with double-digit numbers of children in need. CASAs are required to communicate with their children at least once a month, and also spend time communicating with therapists, teachers, foster parents, and anyone who is involved with the case in an effort to monitor the child’s progress. Additionally, CASA are required to fill out court reports and encourage the children to get involved in extracurricular activities and sports in an effort to provide them normalcy in the midst of hardships.
“I developed an awareness of other children in our community who are really going through horrific situations that they had no say in or control over,” CASA volunteer Brianna Myers said. “I wanted to be someone who made a positive influence, because children in this community are at the mercy of the decisions the adults around them are making. It just felt like a really tangible way to care for kids in our community, to advocate for them when other adults aren’t doing that.”
According to part-time CASA Kelly Myers, studies have shown that children who have an advocate during these court proceedings end up improving and thriving in many different areas of their lives compared to those who do not have an advocate.
And for many CASA employees and volunteers, like Myers, being a voice to some of the more vulnerable members of our society is the reason they become involved in this field, one that can be frustrating and heartbreaking on a daily basis.
“As CASA’s, we advocate for children in the community that have experienced abuse or neglect,” Myers said. “We help provide them with a voice through their court proceedings and advocating for services for them just to make sure they are seen. To have a consistent adult in a system where there are a lot of moving parts…is just really life-changing for them. I feel honored to be able to do that.”
“It’s been a big piece of my heart to try to do whatever I can to make the world a better and safe place for children,” Family Recovery Court CASA Kelly Sisson said. “I really feel a calling towards that, and I think that being a part of foster care will be a part of my life all of my life.”
While the people at CASA of Grant County are dedicated to improving the lives of children in Marion and the surrounding communities, the job itself can be incredibly taxing. CASA’s every day see the worst that humanity has to offer, and that can be hard to deal with.
However, on the tough days, the CASAs of Grant County are there for one another, providing a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, an answer to a question, and most importantly, support when needed.
“We have a really great team of people,” Brainer said. “I have a really great boss and supervisors. At CASA of Grant County, I’ve always felt supported, and I’ve always felt like my co-workers and supervisors have had my back, which is really nice. That’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve really appreciated working at CASA.”
“When it gets rough, and there are some days where you just don’t know what to do…they are really good to talk you off the edge,” three-year volunteer Marilyn Fiebig added. “They do have resources and they have lots of ideas. The folks I work with, I can just shoot them a text…and they’ve never been anything but helpful.”
Not only are CASA of Grant County employees and volunteers grateful for one another, they are also grateful for Hendricks, who goes above and beyond to make her staff feel important, relevant, and cared for.
“Our director, Leslie Hendricks, is just incredible,” Kelly Myers said. “Throughout my time as a CASA, I have never felt alone or isolated. If I have a question, or if I’m concerned about something, I can call her. On days where I have had a difficult interaction or found out something really hard,
what is nice is I don’t have to deal with that by myself.”
“I’m just grateful for Leslie,” Sisson added. “I think she is a very caring and supportive boss, and she has created, and fostered, a pretty healthy environment for the workplace. With [her] support and the [support] of over staff members, it’s just really helpful. She is just a wonderful person. That’s a big piece of it.”
For CASA, the goal is always the same – to be the child’s eyes and ears in court— and to help help them lead enriching, fulfilling lives in a loving environment as quickly and efficiently as possible. And while the work can be both physically and emotionally demanding, the end result makes it all worth it.
“I think CASA is a very crucial need,” Johnson said. “We want to be the eyes and ears of those children and make sure they are being served the best way possible. We don’t want any of those children to fall through the cracks, and we don’t want them to stay in the system any longer than what they need to be.”
“It is really hard to watch kids go through really horrific situations, but to see the tangible, positive impact that CASA has made is so rewarding,” Myers concluded. “It is so affirming that this is a need and that we are making a positive impact. That is really powerful.”