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).
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
All advocates must complete a 30 hour pre-service training. We offer training classes in the Fall and Spring each year, and these classes have recently been adapted to virtual format in light of COVID-19. If the seasonal classes do not work for your schedule, not to worry- we now have a Guided Learning Curriculum that can be completed on your own time and at your own pace! 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.
You are asked to dedicate yourself to a case until it is closed. The average case lasts about a year and a half, but often longer.
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 guidance as you learn what it takes to work a case. This individual will be a resource throughout your time with as a CASA advocate. You may also contact the Advocate Supervisor for additional assistance or help related to your case. We also 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