By Tirsea McNeal, I-O Reporter
Front Range CASA/GAL, Inc is a nonprofit organization in Conrad which serves children in northcentral Montana.
The CASA mission is to provide trained CASA volunteers for every abused and neglected child in the 9th Judicial District that may need one.
CASA currently has 12 volunteers serving for over 40 children in our region.
Anyone interested in being a volunteer, please contact Kiersta Sullivan, Executive Director. If you are interested in serving on the board, contact her or any current board member.
The all-volunteer board consists of people from all four counties in the region, and funding comes from donations and grants.
In 1976, Superior Court Judge David Soukup of Seattle, saw a recurring problem in his courtroom, He said, “In criminal and civil cases, even though there were always many different points of view, you walked out of the courthouse at the end of the day and you said, ‘I’ve done my best; I can live with this decision,’ he explains.
He added, “But when you’re involved with a child and you’re trying to decide what to do to facilitate that child’s growth into a mature and happy adult, you don’t feel like you have sufficient information to allow you to make the right decision. You can’t walk away and leave them at the courthouse at 4 o’clock. You wonder, ‘Do I really know everything I should? Have I really been told all of the different things? Is this really right?”
To ensure he was getting all the facts for the long-term welfare of each child being represented, the Seattle judge came up with an idea that changed America’s judicial procedure and the lives of over a million children.
He obtained funding to recruit and train community volunteers to step into courtrooms on behalf of the children, and they were called Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers.
A CASA volunteer is a trained citizen appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in court.
Children helped by CASA volunteers include those for whom home placement is being determined in juvenile court. Most of the children are victims of abuse and neglect.
The CASA volunteer does research and obtains background information about the child so the court can make decisions based on the best interest of the child. Should the child stay with the parent, or guardian, be placed in foster care or be freed for permanent adoption.
The CASA volunteer makes a recommendation on placement to the judge and follows through on the case until it is permanently resolved.
A CASA volunteer talks with the child, parents, family members, social workers, school officials, health providers and others who are knowledgeable about the child’s history.
The CASA volunteer also reviews all records pertaining to the child: school, medical, case worker reports and other documents.
In Montana, social workers are employed by the state and can work on several cases at one time.
The CASA volunteer has more time and a smaller caseload to investigate a case. They do not replace a social worker on a case, but are independent of the court.
They thoroughly examine a child’s case, with knowledge about available community resources and makes recommendations to the court independent of state agency restrictions.
Every year, CASA raffles off a playhouse. The drawing is held in September. Tickets will soon be available. Watch the I-O for details.
Last year the winner was Becky Meier of Conrad.