Nine people took an oath to help Friday, joining about 100 Court Appointed Special Advocates trained to advocate for children in Allen County court cases.
The volunteers recently completed a six-week, 30-hour training regimen and will work with families and Allen Superior Court officials to help with cases involving substance abuse, homelessness, domestic violence and mental health.
Magistrate Sherry Hartzler of the court's Family Relations Division oversees the Family Recovery Court, where the cases will be heard. She said at a swearing-in ceremony for the new advocates her work would not be possible without them.
Advocates guide court decisions by meeting with children and families to help decide outcomes such as whether children will be placed with parents or outside the home. They also can assist in evaluating what kind of visitation is allowed for the children and whether they need therapy or other services such as tutoring.
Hartzler, who was appointed in 2015 and previously was chief legal counsel for the Indiana Department of Child Services in Allen County, described advocates' role as “kind of like a parent.”
“Without somebody who has their eyes and ears on the child, I wouldn't be able to do my job,” she said.
New classes of advocates are sworn in four times each year, and the ceremony Friday was held in the rotunda of the Allen County Courthouse. Volunteers were thanked and read the CASA Creed – a pledge to “serve the children whose voice we often times ignore.”
Mary Bell, Mary Anna Bradshaw, Harriet Folis, Emily Franks, Michelle Ramos Gray, Christopher Hambrock, Kimberly Michaelson, Shanita Redd and Carlen Trujillo were sworn in.
“They have demonstrated a commitment to children in the community,” said Nancy Springer, Allen County CASA director.
Ramos Gray, 25, recently completed a master's degree in international relations and is bilingual. She said she is excited to work with the Hispanic community, who she said might be more comfortable with her because of a cultural link through language.
Hambrock, 33, said he wanted to “learn and grow as a person” and signed up to be an advocate.
“I wanted to help out and volunteer somewhere,” he said.
Information on becoming an advocate is available at AllenCountyCASA.org or 260-449-7190.