Child Advocates play important role for youth on the fringe

Have you ever felt lost and unsure which way to turn? Ever felt invisible, like you’re slipping through the cracks and nobody seems to care?

This can be a familiar feeling for juveniles who are removed from their homes by the state through no fault of their own. Fortunately, through the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, these kids have someone looking out for them.

The CASA program relies on volunteers appointed by a judge to speak for the best interests of the child in the judicial system. With the help of a CASA volunteer, judges can make a more informed decision about what the best course of action for a child’s future when his or her parents are removed from the equation.

The Fifth Judicial District Voice for Children serves Madison, Jefferson and Beaverhead Counties, explained program director Kate Juran. At any given time there are between 15 and 25 different cases that utilize the services of CASA volunteers.

Often throughout the life of a case there are many changes that can take place, Juran said. Attorneys come and go, along with social workers, therapists and placement in foster homes. But throughout the process the CASA volunteers remain firmly committed to helping the child they are assigned to. The program provides a consistent person for the child whose sole job is to represent their best interest throughout the entire judicial process.

“Its really important that these kids have somebody so that they don’t fall through the cracks of the legal system,” Juran said.

Volunteers must pass a background check before going through a 30-hour training process to before they can become a court-appointed advocate. Some of their duties include reviewing records and gathering information from everyone involved in the case such as parents, teachers, therapists and the children themselves.

CASA of Montana is currently holding a design contest for a specialty license plate, which will provide additional funding for the 15 programs throughout the state. The theme for the design is “I am for the child” and emphasizes the profound responsibility of CASA program volunteers. Local programs will receive 90 percent of the $25 fee for the specialty license plates sold in their jurisdictions. Deadline for contest entries is Jan. 13 for the plates that go on sale this summer.

For more information on the design contest and how to get involved with CASA of Montana, call 1-866-863-2272 or visit www.casagal.org.

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