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Encouraging diversity in CASA programs

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Having volunteers and staff who can relate to families that interact with Court Appointed Special Advocates programs has proven invaluable to a number of county-level CASA programs in Indiana.

Indianapolis-based Child Advocates Inc. will receive the National CASA Inclusion Award for its inclusion and diversity plan March 20 at the National CASA conference in Chicago.

Overcoming ethnic and cultural barriers is not only important in urban areas like Marion County, but also in rural areas where there has been an influx of immigrants in recent years.

CASA Child Advocates Inc. in Indianapolis will receive the National CASA Inclusion Award March 20. From left, Dionne Jones, volunteer coordinator; LaDonna Wattley, volunteer director; Gregg Ellis, Juvenile Court program director; and Cindy Booth, executive director, seated. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Having an inclusion and diversity plan, said Leslie Dunn, director of the Indiana Office of GAL/CASA, “is not just the right thing to do – because it is – but it’s the right thing to do for kids.”

Dunn said she has encouraged all county-level CASA programs to look at what they are currently doing and what they need to do to encourage diversity in terms of recruitment of volunteers and staff. She also asks program administrators to evaluate the training they offer to volunteers regarding cultural differences they will likely face when working on cases.

She praised the efforts of Child Advocates Inc. for their diversity and inclusion plans, including a program the organization hosts, “Undoing Racism.”

Executive Director Cindy Booth also credited her staff, including Gregg Ellis, the Juvenile Court program director, who has been instrumental in getting a staff in Juvenile Court to reflect the population that court will interact with.

In Marion County, she said, 50 percent or more of all Child in Need of Services cases involve children who are African-American.

As for recruiting and training volunteers, Booth and others at the organization, including Volunteer Director LaDonna Wattley and Volunteer Coordinator Dionne Jones, have worked on the organization’s recruiting efforts, including visits to churches and community organizations with high African-American memberships.

Child Advocates has also hosted training sessions at workplaces, including trainings at downtown Indianapolis law firms and a recent session at Baker & Daniels’ office on Indianapolis’ north side. The at-work trainings help improve another type of diversity – they tend to bring in more male volunteers.

Booth, Dunn, and other CASA directors agree that this is important because many children in CHINS cases don’t have a positive male role model, and having a male volunteer shows them that men can care about them. Dunn added that county-level CASA directors have emphasized to potential male volunteers important aspects of the job such as problem solving and research, not just the nurturing aspects they might already know.

In addition to the volunteers who work directly with clients, Booth said there has also been more of an effort by Child Advocates Inc. to recruit diverse board members who will provide input on the organization’s efforts regarding issues of inclusion and diversity.

Dunn mentioned she was impressed with what other county-level CASA programs were doing in Indiana.

Cass County Child Advocates in Logansport has been actively seeking more ways to reach out to the Hispanic community following that population segment’s growth from about 1 percent of the population in 2000 to at least 13 percent in 2008, possibly more considering the number of undocumented workers.

Program Director Stephanie Winkel said the organization had an intern, who is Hispanic, who was a great help because she went with volunteers to meet families. The intern is still somewhat involved with the organization, and other Hispanic students who attend Ivy Tech have been helpful.

“The (Hispanic) community tends to be close-knit and distrustful of outsiders,” Winkel said. “There is also a misconception of CASA and what we do. They wonder, are we law enforcement? Are we there to judge them?”

It helps, she said, to have Spanish-speaking volunteers, but she has learned that it’s even more helpful to have someone who can relate on multiple levels.

“We need a person to act as a bridge, someone who looks like them, talks like them, and understands where they are coming from,” she said.

dunn-leslie-mug Dunn

Finding that “bridge” was especially important in Cass County where a number of cases remained on the waitlist because no one in those families spoke English. In some cases, they wouldn’t even open the door when CASA representatives visited.

“We found that just having someone knock on the door to say, ‘Hola,’ and reassure them we’re not looking to deport people or there to judge them, but we’re here to help the children, made a big difference,” she said.

They found that even if a Hispanic person wasn’t with the volunteer on subsequent visits, the family was more likely to trust the volunteer because of previous interactions.

Having volunteers who relate to the families is important in any situation, Winkel said, including another group she has been working to recruit – women who were or are single mothers who can relate to other young single mothers.

The director of Knox County CASA in Vincennes, Dena Held, has also been actively working on issues of inclusion and diversity in her county. That organization has formed the Knox County CASA Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council. The 15-member group considers different issues impacting the CASA and includes people from the community with a variety of CASA program experience levels.

The group consists of former foster care youth, foster parents, professionals in the medical field, those with an expertise in economic disparity, and others who can help connect Held to different groups in the area to help build the organization’s volunteer base in terms of African-American and male volunteers.

Dunn said the efforts of county programs have been innovative and important, including recruiting efforts by Vigo County CASA in Terre Haute to work with African-American fraternities and sororities and their alumni groups; and Lake County CASA, which she said was second to Child Advocates in Marion County in terms of recruiting diverse volunteers.

One area that Dunn said county-level CASAs still need to put focus on is in the diversity of their staffs.

“Having a diverse staff is extremely helpful because it shows you’re open and welcoming to all people,” she said. “That’s just common sense. I think Cindy has been proactive. It’s easy to be complacent and say no one has come along. … In Indiana, we may need to be a little more progressive and proactive to go out and seek more diverse entities.”

She added that she is working on more training sessions, “… for all of us to understand there are issues, even in smaller communities, and we need to proactively address those issues. We need training beyond cultural competence – but also racial disparity, and how this relates to child welfare. We need people who can be in touch with the people we serve.”•

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  • Mr. Smith you're way off the mark
    Mr. Smith, your lack of understanding of the issue of "diversity" and "inclusivity" is glaringly apparent. Leave it to someone like you ("you" is pertaining to self-serving individuals) to cry "anti white racism" in an attempt to undermine the efforts of an amazing child advocacy organization. Your position and comments on this article are far-reaching to say the least. Believe me, YOU and the white race are not the victim here, so stop acting like it. Save your "whoa is me as a white male" for Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. NO WHERE in this article is the word "racism" mentioned. Also, you conveniently fail to apply your logic to the other DIVERSE "groups" that this organization is reaching out to- Single moms & MEN. Why? Does this NOT fit your agenda of anti-white racism??

    NO WHERE does this article say or imply that "white people can't love thy neighbor" or "are incapable of this service due to the color or their skin." (as you state) What you fail to understand, is that WHAT IS NEEDED are programs like this one who proactively reach out to DIVERSE groups. This does not "take away" from white people who do amazing work. You seem to be translating efforts to increase "diversity" and "inclusivity" to anti white "racism" and "stereotyping". Once again, far reaching and self-serving to say the least. Unfortunately, your effort is just another example of how some groups find it necessary to "co-opt" the language of marginalized groups to draw attention away from the real issues to make it about reverse "racism". In this case the REAL issue is "THE NEED FOR MORE VOLUNTEERS TO HELP ABUSED CHILDREN!!!"

    I will agree with you on one point. YES generalizations are dangerous. But the person quoted in this article clearly speaks from a position based on the experiences of the CASA program and the challenges they have encountered. They do not claim to be speaking for anyone else or society in general. Somehow you took this article and managed to turn it entirely into something it is not. If anyone is being PRESUMPTUOUS here, it is you. Perhaps YOU need to be remediated, or maybe just better informed.
  • racism again? aimed at who?
    Perhaps the racism which needs to be remediated except perhaps implicit racism against whites who are the targets of affirmative action quote and socalled "diversity" programs. I believe that white people can help and love their neighbor just as well as people who are somehow considered "diverse" and reject the notion that whites are incapable of this service due to the color of thier skin. That to me sounds like a sort of anti white racism that should be remediated itself.

    I also found the generalization that Hispanics are "close knit and distrustful of outsiders" to itself be a questionable ethnic generalization that is perhaps based on some cultural stereotypes of Hispanics. There is a notion that Hispanics-- which in itself is an incredibly wide group of people from different nations and backrounds and even different races-- but there is a presumption that Hispanics do not integrate into American society that is perhaps not fully in accord with the facts. That too is a type of cultural stereotyping which is needless in this context.

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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