It’s a nice room.
The shelves are stacked with blankets, pillows, pillowcases, crocheted afghans, handmade quilts, toys within easy reach as well as books and board games that could be pulled out.
For sitting while waiting, there is a comfy couch and a pair of fun, green, floppy mattresses only a child could find some elastic comfort on. Nearby, a rocking chair is naturally paired with a crib tucked away in a cubby. There’s even a dining room table and chairs.
There are also rows of diapers and pull-ups as well as tubs filled with clothes — there labels denoting ages — as well as formula and baby bottles. Brand new duffles still wrapped in plastic waiting to be filled with the necessities many of the visitors to this room are lacking.
The room used to be an attached carport. Part of the house donated for the Dubois County Court Appointed Special Advocates to use for its office. The carport has now become temporary parking for children who are transitioning into a new reality.
While a nice room, the reality bringing children here isn’t.
It’s a respite between homes for children. The home they may have been removed from and their new home with a foster family.
Before, when a case manager from the Department of Child Services removed a child, or children, from a home, the children would likely wait in the back of a car or at the local DCS office as the case manager made phone calls to find a foster home or family member for them.
This causes difficulties. “One case manager told me she was making phone calls to find placement while feeding a baby and watching a toddler at the DCS office,” CASA Director Deena Hubler explained
Another time, a nine-year-old taken from a home listened as a case manager called five family members for placement and was rejected each time. “He was sitting in a cubicle hearing all of this,” Hubler said.
These added difficulties only further harm children found in horrible circumstances. Seeing this, a CASA volunteer suggested they create a better space for children as they prepare to be placed in a temporary home.
For CASA, an agency designed to advocate for the best interest of children during the processes involved in these types of cases, adding a bit of comfort during this unknown time was important.
“We approached DCS about it a few years ago and were told that they were not interested,” Hubler explained.
But leadership changes and with it new attitudes and methodologies are promoted. After being the benefactor of the most recent 100 Men Who Cook fundraiser sponsored by Old National Bank, Hubler approached the DCS office again and this time the answer was a resounding yes.
Using the funds from 100 Men Who Cook and the work of many local volunteers, the carport was transformed into a “Comfort Zone” for DCS case managers use while finding homes for children taken from their parents or caregivers.
Along with the new space, CASA has also started a separate group of volunteers who will come in to help with the children while the case manager does her work. Jane Merder is the new volunteer coordinator for the Comfort Zone.
In the event a case manager removes children from a home, they can reach out to Merder to coordinate two volunteers to be with the children in the Comfort Zone. They have 14 volunteers for the Comfort Zone and could use 14 more. These volunteers are completely different from the CASA volunteers, but both groups undergo background checks, according to Hubler.
Many children removed from a home come with little more than the clothes on their backs and a few prized possessions. “A lot of times they will just have some stuff in plastic grocery bags,” Hubler said.
In the Comfort Zone, children will be able to fill a duffel bag with bedsheets — some children have never slept on sheets, Hubler explained, a pillow and pillowcase as well as one of the handmade or donated quilts. They also get to pick out a new toothbrush and other necessary items like clothing as well as pick a book from a nearby bookshelf.
It is all designed to help in the transition whether the children are newborns or teenagers.
“It is just an opportunity to give them something a little bit nicer in this transition period,” Hubler said. “It will help the foster parents. It will help the DCS workers.”
They are still seeking more volunteers to help with the Comfort Zone. Anyone wanting to donate is asked to do so monetarily so the office has the option to purchase what it needs as supplies are used up.
Anyone who would like to help can contact her at 812-639-0143.
The CASA office is working with about 95 children involved in DCS cases. According to Hubler, as of July, the number of children added to the CASA program had surpassed 2019’s total.