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IU South Bend grad and student advocating for local children

Alumni Community Engagement Apr 9, 2024

Children will always need adults to stand alongside them and protect them when times are tough. That support is never more evident than during Child Abuse Prevention Month each April.

An Indiana University South Bend alum and a soon-to-be-graduate are taking active roles in advocating for local children. Amanda Buchholz (BGS ’14) and Nannette Simms (BSW ’24) are both involved in St. Joseph County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program.

Portrait of IU South Bend alum Amanda Buchholz (BGS '14) Amanda Buchholz (BGS ’14)Buchholz is a recruiter and trainer for the program, and Simms is a CASA volunteer, actively advocating for children in the foster care system. Buchholz’s path to CASA took many turns – from an elementary-education major, to radiography student to a concentration in social and behavioral sciences at IU South Bend.

“After working at a local learning center for six years, I joined the team at Hannah & Friends to help grow their day program for adults with special needs. That led to my position as a caseworker at Logan Protective Services, serving as a guardian and advocate for adults with special needs who don’t have any family support,” she said.

During the pandemic, a friend told Buchholz about the CASA program. She missed working with kids and realized as a recruiter-trainer she could advocate for children in foster care, but also train volunteers how to do the same.

IU South Bend student Nannette Simms (BSW '24) Nannette Simms (BSW ’24)Simms said she draws inspiration from her experience as a special education teacher and working with her granddaughter who has autism. She also has been involved in the foster care system as a foster parent.

“That’s what really pushed me to get involved in the CASA program. If there is not someone to advocate for the kids, they get lost in the system. So that’s where I can come in,” she said. “There are things in the system that are challenging for the kids. Foster parents don’t always know what services are available. I can help them find that. I see what the kids need and then advocate to get them the services that will help.”

That voice is the key to the CASA program. Buchholz said foster children who do not have CASAs are more likely to be bounced from home to home and they don’t get access to as many services.

“Without a CASA there is no one looking out exclusively for the children. We gather information and report the facts to the court. Case workers for DCS are responsible for assisting the parents and the kids. Lawyers are looking out for their clients. We’re exclusively advocating for the best interest of the children,” she said.

Simms said the children she works with are sometimes surprised when they see someone is listening, but the process to get input from them is not always easy.

“Sometimes I have to sit on the floor and play Mario Kart with them, so they’ll open up to me. It’s about being willing to meet them where they are,” she said.

Buchholz said the local CASA program has a wait list of 175 kids, which means some decisions are being made without a voice exclusively for the children.

“It’s really important that these children have an extra person ensuring they have that voice,” Buchholz said. “These kids absolutely need you. If you don’t do it who will? If you wait for the right time, that time may never come. Volunteering and being a voice for these children only takes ten or so hours a month after the initial training.”

Simms said the time invested is worth it.

“It’s the best thing in the world. It opens my heart more. I have problems like everyone else. I work full time and I go to school full time, but this is worth it in the end. I want my grandchildren to see that no matter how old you are, you can fulfill your dream. I want to advocate for children,” Simms said.

Get more information on becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate CASA | St. Joseph County, IN (

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