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CASA internship gives criminal justice majors inside look

Mar 28, 2022
Two women stand in front of a courthouse
Two women stand in front of a courthouse

KOKOMO, Ind. — The decisions Nicole Sharp and Erica Bolinger make in their internships have real impact on children’s lives.

The two Indiana University Kokomo criminal justice majors were sworn in as a Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, as part of their internship with the not-for-profit. CASA recruits, trains, supervises, and supports volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children in the court system.

“It’s a good experience,” the Sharpsville resident said. “It really gets your foot in the door, and you see what your future job might be. I really like the idea of social work, working with DCS (Indiana Department of Child Services). With this internship, I get to interact with DCS. It gives me real experience in what the court system is like, and what I can do within it.”

For Sharp, the experience has provided an inside look at the court system and helped her narrow her career focus for after she graduates. Her original plan was to work in juvenile probation, but she’s chosen another path.

Sharp and Bolinger completed the 30-day training required of all CASA volunteers, and then were each assigned to advocate for one child within the court system. They meet with the child monthly, talk to the people in that child’s life – parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, doctors, attorneys, social workers, and others — keep an eye out for any unmet needs, and write a court report for all hearings concerning the child, stating she believes is in the child’s best interests, and what the child wants.

“It’s stressful, but it’s a good stress at the end of the day,” said Bolinger, from Auburn. “You want to make the right decision for your child.”

The work is good preparation for Bolinger’s plans to work in juvenile probation after she graduates.

“This gave me an inside look and opened the door for me to learn more about the court system, how juveniles are handled within it, how to write court reports, and other aspects that will prepare me for a job,” she said.

Kelly Fisher, lecturer of criminal justice and homeland security, also serves on the CASA Board of Directors, and has heard positive comments from program staff about Sharp and Bolinger’s work. She added both will be offered paid contract positions after completing their internships.

“Both of them are gaining experience and training that traditional college students just don’t get,” she said, adding that as interns, they have the support system of CASA staff and volunteers to mentor and guide them in their development as social workers.

“Even if they opt into other criminal justice careers, the knowledge and experience they gain from this internship will give them specific knowledge and educated perspective to take into another area,” Fisher said. “They are also growing their network of criminal justice professionals far beyond what typical students would have just from campus learning.”

Bolinger feels more confident about her future, now that she’s having a successful internship.

“This lets you see if you can handle the work,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking at first, because you want to be sure you are doing your best, to make the right decisions for a child who is counting on you.”

Sharp said the experience will help her make an informed decision about her future career.

“In the criminal justice field, you have to have a drive to make a change,” she said. “You really have to be sure this is what you want to do for your future.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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