Become an Advocate

 

We Need You!

It matters to children when someone stands up for them in court. This is especially true in dependent neglect trials when parents are not necessarily a source of stability or support for their children. Abused and neglected children in Montana need caring and committed adults who are trained to represent their best interests.

CASA advocates receive thirty hours of initial training, plus twelve additional hours a year in monthly trainings, readings and related opportunities. Advocates also have ongoing, one-on-one supervision and group supervision to assist with the technical steps of helping these children. Every advocate is trained in the special needs of abused and neglected children, courtroom procedures, social services and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

A CASA advocate is:

  • An individual who has been screened and trained by CASA of Lewis & Clark and Broadwater Counties and appointed by the court to advocate for children who come into the court system primarily as a result of alleged abuse or neglect.
  • An individual who respects a child's inherent right to grow up with dignity in a safe environment that meets that child's best interests.
  • An individual who assures that the child's best interests are represented in the court at every stage of the case and in the community in all aspects of the child's life.

Speak Up For a Child

The children with whom CASA works are victims of child abuse and neglect. Many of them are in foster care. They need a “voice in court” in order to find a safe, permanent home quickly whether that means returning to a parent or being adopted. The CASA/GAL advocate provides that voice, sharing with the court both what the child wants and a recommendation about what is in that child’s best interest. It is valuable work that requires the commitment of your time, your energy, and your hear

How Do I Become an Advocate?

  1. CONTACT the Helena CASA office 
  2. Complete an application HERE
  3. Provide three personal/professional references
  4. Participate in a personal interview
  5. Complete a CPS background check
  6. Complete a criminal background check
  7. Complete 30 hours of required training and review and sign required forms
  8. Get your ID picture taken and badge made
  9. Be sworn in as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) before the 1st Judicial District Court

Requirements include:

  • Be 21 years old
  • Be willing to complete necessary background checks, provide references and participate in an interview
  • Complete a minimum of 30 hours of pre-service training and sign all needed forms
  • Be available for court appearances, with advance notice
  • Be willing to commit to the CASA program until your first case is closed
  • Have 4-10 hours per month of time to give to your case

Volunteer Role: Frequently Asked Questions

Do I Need To Have Any Special Skills?

No special background or education is required to become a CASA Advocate. We encourage people from all cultures and professions, and of all ethnic and educational backgrounds. Once accepted into the program, you will receive all necessary training in courtroom procedures, social services, and the special needs of abused and neglected children.

The Role Of The CASA Advocate In a Child's Life

Your goal as a CASA/GAL advocate is to remain empathetic to the family while remembering that the child is your focus. It is important to be objective; to remain detached enough to see clearly the child's and family's situation and needs. To be successful as a CASA/GAL advocate you must care about the families of the children, but you cannot live their lives for them.

The most difficult boundaries to set and maintain are those between the CASA advocate and the child or children in the case. It is natural to care about a child who has been hurt and who relies on you to keep his/her best interest at the forefront – if you didn't care, you wouldn't work so hard to ensure his/her needs are met. However, if you get too personally involved, it is hard to maintain the objective perspective that is required for advocacy work. Our goal is to be part of a temporary intervention in a child’s life - to assist in a time of need and then to leave and let the child continue along his/her way. When the child is in a safe, permanent home, your work as a CASA/GAL advocate is done. It is time to move forward and help another child.

Exactly What Does a CASA Advocate Do?

CASA advocates are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court and other settings. The primary responsibilities of a CASA advocate are to:

  • Gather information: Review documents and records, interview the children, family members and professionals in their lives.
  • Document findings: Provide written reports at court hearings.
  • Appear in court: Advocate for the child's best interests and provide testimony when necessary.
  • Explain what is going on: Help the child understand the court proceedings.
  • "Be the glue": Seek cooperative solutions among individuals and organizations involved in the children's lives. As one advocate said: Be the glue that connects the pieces in a complicated child welfare system.
  • Recommend services: Ensure that the children and their family are receiving appropriate services and advocate for those that are not immediately available. Bring concerns about the child’s health, education, mental health, etc. to the appropriate professionals.
  • Monitor case plans and court orders: Check to see that plans are being followed and mandated review hearings are being held.
  • Keep the court informed: Update the court on developments with agencies and family members. Ensure that appropriate motions are filed on behalf of the child so the court knows about any changes in the child's situation.

What Is a Child's "Best Interest"?

Parents typically decide what is best for their children and then provide it for them the best that they can. They are their children's best advocates. The court intervenes in families' lives when parents cannot or will not protect, promote, and provide for their children's basic needs. A CASA/GAL advocate becomes the advocate when the parents cannot – or will not – fulfill this role.

Juvenile court judges use the "best interest of the child" standard when making decisions in child abuse and neglect cases. Child welfare and juvenile court practitioners and scholars have debated the meaning of "best interest of the child" for years. Although books have been written on the subject, there is still no concise legal definition for this standard.

In cases where the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) applies, the law presumes that it is always in the best interest of an Indian child to have his/her own people determine what is best for his/her future.

How Much Time Does It Take To Be a CASA Advocate?

All advocates must complete a 30 hour pre-service training. The time commitment to a case varies depending upon the stage of the case. Advocates sometimes say that there is a greater amount of work in the beginning of the case, when they are conducting their initial research. On average, you can expect to spend approximately 10 hours a month on a case.

Do I Need To Make a Long-term Commitment To The Program?

You are asked to dedicate yourself to a case until it is closed. The average case lasts about a year and a half.

What Sort Of Support Will I Receive?

You will be supported every step of the way. You will be assigned a peer coordinator or mentor who will be there to assist you and provide you with opportunities for continuing education and learning. This individual will be a resource throughout your time with CASA as an advocate. You may also contact the Advocate Coordinator or Executive Director for additional assistance or help related to your case. There are also monthly case review meetings that provide advocates the opportunity to meet as a group and discuss their cases and get feedback, ideas and help as may be needed.

To report a possible case of child abuse or neglect, call the 24-hour, toll-free Montana Child Abuse Hotline: 1-866-820-5437