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CASA program receives $2 million

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Child Advocates just got big boost in its efforts to help children. To help fund education and recruitment of volunteers who serve as guardian ad litems and child advocates, $2 million from the Marion Superior reserve fund will go to the efforts of Indianapolis-based Child Advocates, officials announced at a press conference today.

Since this summer, when the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled child advocate programs in Indiana should be funded by counties and not necessarily the state, guardian ad litem programs have been seeking ways to cover the costs for representing the community's most vulnerable residents, children in cases of abuse and neglect.

That case, on which the court ruled June 30, was a consolidated appeal of In the Matters of N.S. and J.M.: Indiana Department of Child Services v. T.S. and S.B., and C.L., and B.M., No. 32A05-0902-JV-78.

Child advocates are guaranteed for abused and neglected children by state statute, and the wait can be six to nine months before an advocate is assigned.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said while the funds are not meant to be a long-term solution, it is a step in the right direction even considering the difficult economic climate for the city and the state.

Currently, the backlog for foster children in Marion County waiting to be assigned an advocate is about 800, said Cindy Booth, executive director of Child Advocates. She added a significant backlog has existed since 2005, with a peak of 1,300.

She said other counties around the state with large backlogs are urban areas, such as South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Evansville.

Statewide, at the end of 2008 there were 4,000 outstanding cases, according to a report from Indiana GAL/CASA.

Child Advocates also needs an additional 200 volunteers to help shorten the backlog, Booth said. Having trained lawyers and other legal professionals at downtown Indianapolis law firms in the past, they are in the process of seeking a law firm to host training sessions this spring, she said.

Child Advocates has 10 30-hour trainings beginning in January, she said. Schedules for those trainings are posted on the organization's Web site.

Marion Juvenile Judge Marilyn Moores said the work of child advocates is invaluable to the courts, as their research about the children provides information that the courts couldn't otherwise access.

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