January 9, 2013

Child advocate program awarded state grant

by Caitlin Huston

— Cass County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate received a boost in its program with a $13,000 state-funded grant.

In nationwide CASA offices, volunteers work with abused and neglected children and advocate for them in court. Stephanie Winkel, program director of the Cass County Child Advocates, said the grant was needed for the program, which will use it for salaries and volunteer expenses.

Winkel said the office submitted documents to the state in December specifying what they would do with the money and what accounting practices they have. The county is also required to submit an equal amount of money.

The county allocated $22,500 for the CASA program in 2013, Winkel said.

The money is distributed each year from the state office of GAL/CASA and it awards money based on the number of children in need of services cases in the county the previous year.

Winkel said they received a larger amount than usual due to the large number of child in need of services cases in 2011.

“We had a record year,” Winkel said.  

The county’s CASA office also applies for competitive grants, Winkel said.

The money meant a great deal to Winkel because it received $6,000 from the state last year and were struggling to make ends meet, she said.

“Without that state money, the program would not be able to function the way it is,” Winkel said.  

Winkel said she would combine the county and state money into one account and use the money to pay her salary, the salary of the volunteer coordinator, work done by attorney Jeff Stanton and reimbursement of volunteer mileage and training.

Winkle said she believed they would receive funds from the grant later this year.

“We will hopefully receive half of it in February and the other half in June or July,” Winkel said.  

The county program currently has 18 volunteers, which Winkel said meet with the children at least every 30 days to monitor their situation and learn what will be in their best interest in terms of custody situations and visitation.

“Our guardians know the child,” Winkel said. “They know who they’re routing for on American Idol and who their teacher is.”

Cass Circuit Judge Leo Burns said the majority of child in need of services cases involve preschool-aged children. Burns said an advocate is important in all juvenile cases, but it becomes essential with very young children.

“It’s even more important when an infant or two or three-year-old has someone step in their shoes and advocate for their best interests,” Burns said.

Burns said he takes the reports of the CASA volunteers into consideration during hearings.

“I pay close attention to their reports,” Burns said.

Winkle said the office is looking for more volunteers, especially males.

“There are so many children out there who don’t have a strong father figure in their life,” Winkel said.

Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or