MUNCIE, Ind. (WISH)—Delaware County picked up a new tool this week to help abused children: a 2-year-old Labrador named Frankie.
The trained service dog will accompany kids throughout the court process to comfort them as they share their stories.
Child advocates say child abuse and neglect cases have increased more than 118 percent over the past five years in Delaware County. People often volunteer to comfort the kids but, with so many cases, the kids need all the help they can get.
“It’s our way of making sure these children have someone so they don’t have to be alone,” Delaware County Court Appoint Special Advocates (CASA) Director Ashley Soldaat said.
Soldaat is Frankie’s handler, best friend and biggest fan.
Abused kids are often asked to share their stories for forensic interviewers, judges and, in some cases, entire court rooms.
“Some of them tell us, I don’t want to ever go back,” Soldaat said. “That’s scary to do. Some of them want to go back home but that’s not necessarily the best for them. It’s always a scary situation.”
Now, from the interview room to the courthouse, Frankie can stay by a kid’s side. She’s been training for months and this week, for the first time, she accompanied a little boy to court.
“The child was really happy. You don’t always get to see kids smiling in that setting,” Soldaat said. “He was thrilled to have her by his side.”
Soldaat said the local spike in child abuse stems from a nationwide drug epidemic.
Data from Indiana State Police consistently shows Delaware County as one of the top counties in the state for meth busts.
According to Soldaat, more than 95 percent of the county’s CASA cases involve some form of parental drug abuse.
“Frankie is going to be the face of our program. Someone that people in our community can really identify our program with,” she said.
Frankie is just the second CASA dog in the state of Indiana.
Soldaat said she attended a conference in Seattle focused on court dogs. She immediately felt it was a great idea for Delaware County.
The dog was donated by a St. Louis-based group called Support Dogs Inc.
Soldaat said the county’s CASA had a rainy day fund of leftover money CASA received from the state and the county. That money is helping Soldaat’s team take care of the dog. It’s also covering some of the travel expenses accrued as they set the program up.