CASA director hopes for more community engagement ahead of office opening

Published 1:30 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

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Awaiting office space – which is set to come in October – CASA of Madison and Clark Counties has nevertheless found a way to engage the community.

Recently, the organization found itself speaking with locals at JK’s at Forest Grove, located on Old Boonesboro Road.

“The whole point of it was to just spread awareness of what CASA of Madison and Clark Counties is doing,” said Victoria Benge, the executive director for CASA of Madison and Clark Counties. “[We want] to try to engage more people in Clark County to become involved and just [be] more knowledgeable to the situation and issues that children in Clark County are facing.”

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CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a national association that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused and neglected children.

Last Thursday’s event was in collaboration with the Winchester-Clark County Chamber of Commerce and was sponsored by Community Trust Bank of Winchester.

In 2022, CASA of Madison and Clark Counties reported that it found 163 cases of abuse.

Of the 163 reported cases of abuse, 59 children have advocates presently.

Thus, while the support thus far has been beneficial, many adolescents still need an advocate.

Benge hopes continual efforts will prove fruitful.

“The way we can get to 100% of the kids served is we just need more volunteers to step up and be an advocate for these kids,” Benge said.

The gathering offered optimism, as approximately 60-75 individuals showed up.

Among them were Winchester-Clark County Chamber of Commerce executive director Cindy Banks, Magistrate Steve Craycraft, City Commissioner Kitty Strode, Fly Witches owner Callie Thornton and more.

Not only was the extended presence encouraging, but the words spoken had a positive impact after the meeting.

“I’ve already had people get in touch with me this morning and ask me how to get involved and [what are] the next steps,” Benge stated on Friday, Sept. 1. “It was extremely successful.”

As CASA advocates, volunteers would advocate for children during an open abuse and neglect case, demonstrating care for their best interests.

“Our volunteers are assigned to a child or sibling set at one time, and they stay with them until permanency,” Benge added. “These kids go through…a lot of changes throughout their time in the system.”

Benge mentions the average time children are in the child welfare system to be approximately two years, with several different foster placements and social workers.

“We just strive to be that one consistent person that no matter how many places they go to or how many changes [occur], they know at least one person is the same and knows everything about them,” she said.

While the process can be challenging, the rewards are beneficial.

“It is one of the most rewarding things,” added Benge, a former CASA volunteer. “I still keep in touch with my CASA kids to this day. I can’t begin to describe the successes. For them to be striving and just happy is the best thing you can ever hope for.”