By Michelle Bigelbach
The Courier 

CASA Volunteers Provide Voice To Children

 


Currently, in the 17th District Court System, comprised of Blaine, Phillips and Valley County, there are 80 children in need of someone to serve as their voice as they navigate the court and foster system. To fill this role a total of eight Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, in addition to Program Advocate Coordinator of the 17th Judicial District Shyanne Wallace, assist these children and become their eyes and ears during the process.

“There is a deficit of volunteers for kids,” stated Wallace.

CASAs are provided court cases where children have been neglected or abused and serve as their advocate. “We build relationships with not only the child, but the child’s health care providers, school, foster parents, social workers and the court system,” said Wallace. “We provide the whole picture of the child to the court to help assist in the best possible outcome.” Volunteers give approximately 10 hours a month and follow the child and the court case from beginning to end, which is approximately 18 months long.


Committing to being a volunteer doesn’t just mean a person is thrown into the process. Wallace provides training, based upon the volunteer’s schedule, and then the volunteer is sworn into the court system and assigned a case. Wallace mentors the volunteer through the case, goes to the court hearings with them, and mentors the volunteer throughout the entire process. “It’s not nearly as scary as people might think. A volunteer has a really good support system,” stated Wallace.

Wallace started in the position as program advocate coordinator in December of 2018 after accidentally stumbling upon the opportunity. “I would never have guessed from the initial job description all the things I would be doing,” stated Wallace. “It’s really unlike anything I have ever done before. Working for CASA has changed my life.”


Establishing a close relationship with executive director Cherie LeBlanc-Dyba in Miles City, the support of Judge Yvonne Laird and the opportunity to attend a national conference in Atlanta, Ga., and training on the Indian Welfare Child Act in Portland, Ore., has contributed to Wallace’s success in the position. “We have fantastic judicial support in Judge Laird. The support she has for CASA is indescribable,” stated Wallace.

CASA in Montana started in 1994 with one county and four volunteers. “The program has just blown up. It’s a sad necessity but we do give children a voice and advocate for their best interest as they navigate through the foster system,” said Wallace.

Wallace will be hosting an open house on Monday, July 1, from 5 to 7 p.m. at her new office, 54253 US Highway 2, Suite B, located next to Dr. Wilson’s Dental Office, across the highway from the Cottonwood. There will be door prizes and refreshments as well as a chance to learn more about CASA, being a volunteer and answer any questions about the process. She can also be contacted at 230-6345 or by e-mail at [email protected]

 

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