CASA, lawmakers rally for siblings of abused children

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Local Court-Appointed Special Advocates noticed an omission in the law for getting needed services for the underage siblings of an abused child.

In the cases where there is sexual abuse of a child, the child is placed in the Children in Need of Services, or CHINS, program. And the child’s siblings who live in the same home can be put in the program as well.

In cases of physical abuse, however, the abused child can be placed in the CHINS, but not the siblings.

“It’s been especially frustrating for the CASAs,” said Deena Hubler, director of the Dubois County CASA program. “They are the voice for the child who has been abused. But they can’t be the voice for the other children because they’re not under the judge’s order.”

Indiana’s CHINS program provides treatment and protection for children who have been abused or neglected, including siblings of the abused. Those services may be in the home, or, depending on the severity of the case, the child may be removed from the home. Services include receiving a CASA, the trained advocate represents the child’s best interests in the court system.

The way the law is structured, services are provided for siblings of children who have been sexually abused or neglected. But that wasn’t the case for physical abuse situations.

“We have cases where one child is physically harmed, but the other children in the home can’t become CHINS because there was no indication that they are being harmed at that time,” Hubler said. “It is possible that they weren’t hurt — this time. But because there is no visible sign of abuse at that time,” the other children are not put under the CHINS protection.

Witnessing abuse can be detrimental on a child as well.

“You don’t know what the other children have seen,” Hubler said. “When one child needs to be removed, you have to consider the other children.

“It’s one of those things that needed to be changed.”

So she and local CASAs reached out to state legislators for help.

“We thought we’d start with Mark Messmer,” Hubler said.

Messmer, a state senator from Jasper, agreed that the loophole needed to be fixed and proposed legislation, Senate Bill 381, to fix the oversight.

“If there is abuse of one kid, there is the potential of abuse of all kids,” Messmer said. “Why aren’t the rest of the kids being watched automatically? Well everyone assumed that they are. But they aren’t.”

He and State Sens. Mike Bohacek and Jean Breaux authored the bill together this legislative session, and it passed the Senate unanimously. State Rep. Shane Lindauer was one of the bill’s three sponsors when it reached the House of Representatives.

“We have to protect our children, especially when they are so vulnerable in these situations,” the Jasper legislator said in a press release about the legislation. “Sadly, abusers are oftentimes repeat offenders. This legislation is a step in the right direction to prevent more kids from being victims of such horrible circumstances.”

The bill unanimously passed the House and is now waiting for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signature. Once that is done, the legislation will go into effect July 1.

Hubler appreciated Messmer’s help in getting the matter in front of the General Assembly. “He saw the need and jumped on it,” she said. “I talked to him about this last fall and he said that my timing was great because (legislators were) working on legislation to submit.”

She points to the speedy manner in which the legislators acted as proof that people in the community can get things changed in legislation if they see a problem that should be addressed.

“If you see something that needs to be changed, just talk to your legislators,” she said. “The people in the community need to take advantage of that. All it takes is a call.”

The community can also help CASA by becoming involved. As of today, there are 139 CHINS in Dubois County, “and they are all Dubois County children,” Hubler said.

“People don’t realize that this happens as frequently as it does,” she said. “We have a wonderful county. But unfortunately, there are abuse cases happening here. The only way we can combat this is for people to be more aware of this problem.”

Of the 139 CHINS cases, 21 children are on a waiting list to get a CASA.

Dubois County CASA has 58 volunteers and nine in training. But it needs another 20 volunteers to cover all of its cases, including those on the waiting list.

“Our goal is to eliminate this wait list this year and have it gone forever,” Hubler said.

A training class for those interested in becoming a CASA will be held on May 10. The application to be considered for the program and to get in the training class is due by April 23. Those interested can find more information and fill out the application online at duboiscountycasa.org. They can also contact Hubler at 812-639-0143.




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