Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a network of over 950 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. CASA advocates represent the voice of the community in child abuse and neglect cases. CASA of Montana, Inc., together with local programs, supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children so that they can thrive in safe, permanent homes.
In addition to the state office, there are 15 independent nonprofit local CASA programs in Montana, serving 41 of the 56 counties with over 600 volunteer advocates. Local CASA programs are based in the communities of Anaconda, Billings, Bozeman, Conrad, Dillon, Great Falls, Hamilton, Havre (serving the 12th and 17th Judicial Districts), Helena, Kalispell, Livingston, Miles City, Missoula and Polson. Many of these programs serve multiple counties. It is the only program of its kind, empowered directly by the courts to provide children with one-on-one advocacy. Volunteer advocates offer judges the critical information they need to assess the best interests of the child and assure each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care. Each volunteer advocate stays with each case until the child is placed in a loving permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.
Over the past 12-18 months, CASA programs in Montana have been challenged in a way never seen before in Montana. The number of children being removed from their homes through no fault of their own and placed in foster care by Child Protection Services has reached an all-time high in Montana. Depending on the month, the numbers exceed 2,000 children in care. Typically, when the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child & Family Division (Child Protection Unit) removes a child and files a petition in District Court, the local CASA program director will appoint a CASA advocate to the case. When that happens, the CASA advocate remains with the child (or children) until a safe, permanent and thriving home is found. At times, this can mean the reunification of the family.
In 2014, Montana CASA volunteer advocates served approximately 2,000 children. Some of these children were the result of new cases and some were related to older cases which were ongoing. For the first time ever, some programs have not been able to serve 100% of the children who need CASA services due to the increased caseloads.
The local programs are responsible for the recruitment, supervision, and retention of qualified citizen volunteer advocates. To become an advocate, one must complete the application and interview process, extensive background checks and a minimum of 30 hours of intensive pre-service training. Upon completion of this process, new advocates are sworn in by the local district court judge. CASA advocates are widely known as “the voice of the child”.
CASA advocates come to know their child(ren) almost better than anyone. CASA volunteer advocates see their assigned children regularly and interview all the adults who impact their lives. Advocates typically visit with the child in different places, will often spend private time talking, playing or engaging in a fun activity. And, the advocate appears at all court hearings.
HOW CAN YOU HELP CASA?
Inquire about becoming a volunteer advocate, make a donation, join a local Board and spread awareness.
For further information, contact Joyce Funda, Executive Director of CASA of Montana
Email: [email protected]