Volunteers recognized for work with kids, court cases

GREENFIELD – Two Greenfield residents were recently recognized by a regional chapter of Indiana’s Court-Appointed Special Advocates for the work they do to help Hancock County’s children in need.

The Court-Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, program utilizes volunteers to evaluate the needs of children who are tangled up in various court cases, often ones in which their parents have been accused of abuse or neglect. The advocate serves as the eyes and ears of a judge, looking into a child’s living situation, and the voice of the child in the courtroom.

Each fall, leaders of the county’s chapter of the advocate program honor those who work toward better of the lives of local kids, crowning them champions of children.

Marciann McClarnon of Greenfield was named the 2017 Hancock County CASA Volunteer of the Year, an honor bestowed to a local volunteer who does well fighting for children’s rights in the county judicial system.

Diane Burklow, also of Greenfield, was given the Judge Jack L. Brinkman Award, which recognizes a resident who makes a difference in the lives of children in their community. Burklow is a founding member of the county’s child-abuse prevention organization, Hancock 4 Kids, and she was honored for the work she does leading that group.

The Judge Jack L. Brinkman Award is named for the Madison County judge who brought the CASA program to East Central Indiana in 1987; it expanded to include Hancock County in 2004.

The organization now serves  some 200 local children each year. Volunteers are tasked with identifying what is best for the child who is wrapped up in a court case. The volunteer visits with the child’s family, teachers and others, then makes a recommendation to judges on what living situation they believe is in the child’s best interest.

McClarnon, a retired teacher, became an advocate last year amid a search for ways to continue to serve local kids.

McClarnon said she immediately took a liking to the program and the sense of fulfillment it brought her. In a matter of the months, she began taking on more cases and putting in part-time work at the local office, helping train new volunteers and getting them acquainted with the CASA mission.

Being an advocate helped her feel like she was making an impact in the lives of local children in ways she never had before, McClarnon said. A retired teacher, she had spent years getting to know children in a classroom setting, but she rarely learned about their families and never had the opportunity to help ensure their lives away from school were positive, as well, she said.

The title of volunteer for the year came as a great surprise, and it’s one she’ll wear with pride, she said.

Burklow also volunteers as an advocate but was recognized for the work she does away from the organization.

In 2015, she helped found the county’s first state-recognized child-abuse prevention organization. The group, which now goes by Hancock 4 Kids, started as Prevent Child Abuse Hancock County, with the goal of educating residents about children’s issues in Hancock County.

Its members include community stakeholders, including health care providers, educators and representatives from local law enforcement, who can offer different viewpoints on child abuse and neglect.

Burklow serves as a chair of the group, and every day, she worked to spread the organization’s mission and deepen its impact in the community. The group’s most notable venture so far is a curriculum of free parenting classes, including ones volunteers host in the county jail.

How to help

State law requires a judge to assign a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, to every court case where a child’s well-being is at stake. The advocate serves as the eyes and ears of the judge, taking an in-depth look into a child’s life and then reporting back with a recommendation about what is best for the child going forward.

The Hancock County branch of the organization has helped more than 250 kids so far this year; but organizers are always looking for additional volunteers to keep up with the busy local caseload. Currently 50 children are on a wait-list to be partnered with an advocate.

To get involved, contact the local CASA office at 317-477-0034 for more information.

Author photo
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.