TERRE HAUTE -- Child in Need of Services, or CHINS, is a legal definition used by Indiana courts to identify a child who is neglected or abuse, and who is not getting needed care or treatment.
The child — usually through no fault of their own — comes under the oversight of juvenile court, which attempts to make sure adults are providing for the child’s health, education, housing, nutrition and welfare.
And Vigo County has a nearly exponentially growing list of children who need someone to speak for them.
In 2010, Vigo County saw 110 new CHINS cases enter the local system. The number has grown dramatically in the last decade. In 2016, 463 new cases were added to the system. In 2017, 832 CHINS cases were active in the local court system.
Vigo County is currently on track to have about 1,600 CHINS by the end of 2019. That means one of every 13 local children will need intervention in court.
Speaking for the children
Who is it who speaks for these children?
In many cases that person is a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA. And while the Vigo County CASA office has some paid staff to oversee the program, most CASAs are volunteers who go through special training to perform specific duties.
Darby Scism is one of those volunteers.
“I’ve known about CASA and the mission to assist kids in need of a voice for many years. I never felt I had the flexibility in my job to be a CASA volunteer until recently,” said Scism, who has worked as a counselor in a children’s residential treatment center and then at a psychiatric hospital.
But for the past two years, she has been involved with Vigo County CASA as a way she can contribute to the community.
It has been a rewarding experience, it but also comes with frustrations, she said.
“The most difficult thing for me has been the realization that there are parents who are not willing to do everything in their power to have a healthy relationship with their kids,” Scism said. “Because of their own family relationships and challenges, they pass down the dysfunctional cycle and it just keeps repeating itself over and over. Not being able to break that cycle and help is incredibly frustrating.”
What CASAs do
Court appointed special advocates are trained to:
• Make contact with everyone in the child’s life, including the child, parents, foster parents, teachers, caseworkers, counselors, therapists, doctors and other professionals.
• Appear at court hearings and submit written reports to the court outlining findings and recommendations as to the best interests of the child.
• Collaborate with local agencies to obtain the best possible living solution for the child, whether it be reunification, placement or adoption.
CASA volunteers donated 13,700 hours and CASAs and staff made 8,011 contacts advocating for Vigo County’s children saving the taxpayers of Vigo County $1.37 million in 2017.
Volunteer training is offered on a regular basis. For more information about requirements, contact the CASA office in the Vigo County Aneex at 141 Oak St., Terre Haute, or call 812-231-5658, or go online to www.VigoCountyCASA.net.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.