PRESS VISIT — Students from the Conrad Christian School recently went on a tour of the Great Falls Tribune and their press room. As it turns out, they were there the same day The Independent-Observer was coming off the press. From the left in front are Fallon Mullennax, Jaden Koon, and Sierra Frydenlund. In the second row is Megan Vandenacre, Chad VanderVeen, Dalayne VanDyke, Blake Vandenacre, Haylee Koon, Evan VanDyke, Augusta VanDyke, Annalise VanderVeen and Patrick Wolff. In the back are Andrea Morren, Reese Spears, Lynne Spears, Matthew Arends and Jane Arends. Editor's Note - Although this picture doesn't relate to the article below, we here at the I-O thought it needed to be published! Courtesy Photo
By Trina Jo Bradley, CASA Board Member
Christmas is a time of giving, and that is exactly what the volunteers for Front Range Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) have been doing.
According to Executive Director Kiersta Sullivan, the Front Range CASA program was reorganized in March 2009, and has since recruited and trained eight volunteers who have worked 23 cases since March, as well as a full nine-member board of directors.
Front Range CASA is a non-profit organization, and relies solely on grants and donations to run its program, which serves the 9th Judicial District, covering Pondera, Toole, Teton and Glacier counties. Front Range CASA relies heavily on donations from local businesses, and has received an impressive $4700 so far this year from businesses in the four-county area.
According to Sullivan, volunteers are trained to be advocates for children whose parents have been accused of abuse or neglect.
“Each of these dedicated volunteers made a decision to become a voice for a child,” Sullivan said.
The volunteer is assigned a case and then spends many hours interviewing anyone with information about the child, including parents, siblings, doctors and teachers. The volunteers must be independent from all other parties involved.
“The CASA/GAL is given the freedom to explore all options available to make an informed decision for the best interest of the child,” Sullivan said.
A volunteer must have knowledge of the child’s cultural and ethnic heritage. The decision of whether it is in the best interest of the child to be reunited with the parents or placed in an alternative permanent placement is difficult, which is why the volunteers spend 30 hours training before taking on a case.
All volunteers are carefully screened. They must be open-minded, flexible and capable of making decisions for the child. The volunteer is assigned the case as early as possible in the court process and stay throughout the entire case until the child is either reunited with the family, adopted, or placed in long term foster care.
The duties of the CASA/GAL are to conduct an independent investigation, determine the best interest of the child, provide written reports at every hearing, appear at all hearings to represent the child’s interests, explain the court proceeding and their role in terms that child can understand, make recommendations for services for the child, and advocate for the child’s best interest.
“Being a CASA/GAL volunteer is a huge responsibility but the rewards of knowing that you are doing what you can for the best interest of a child is priceless,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan is planning a volunteer training sometime in January, and has six volunteers signed up as of press time.