CASA program helps children navigate legal system
By Lailani Upham
Roxana Colman-Herak, CASA program manager, right, discusses the program as St. Ignatius council representative Patty Steven, left, listens. (Lailani Upham photo)
PABLO — In recent years, Child Protective Service referrals have taxed resources and staff. Attorneys who handle these cases hardly have time to thoroughly monitor compliance with court orders let alone settle what is the child’s best interest. With many cases moving through the court system, the process to protect children could also lose them in the child welfare system.
“With an alarming number of children removed from their homes a child can become lost in a maze of uncertainties,” said Roxana Colman-Herak, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Department of Human Resource Development Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program manager.
“These children are not playing with the neighbors or making happy family memories. They are attending court hearings, adjusting to new foster homes and trying to cope with the transitions of one school after another, or worse, not school at all,” said Colman-Herak.
Relief may be coming.
On Feb. 21, the CSKT DHRD CASA program was launched. According to Colman-Herak, CASA may be a “new” program, but a CASA program was in operation from the early-1990s to the mid-2000s. For this second round, an advisory committee team of leaders and experts in the community are helping to develop the program’s mission.
CASA is a nation wide network of more than 1,000 programs that recruit and train volunteers to represent or advocate the best interest of abused and neglected children in courtrooms.
It all began in 1977. Seattle juvenile court judge David Soukup grew more and more concerned about making drastic decisions in his courtroom concerning children. Soukup said he realized there wasn’t a voice for children. Caseworkers had their obligations to their agencies. Parents had their voice. Other agencies had input. However, the child didn’t have a voice.
Colman-Herak met Soukup at the National CASA Conference last month in Seattle and said as she heard his testimony on making steps to change procedures in the courtrooms she crafted ideas in her new role as a CSKT CASA trainer.
An advisory committee team of tribal program directors, experts and leaders met last week at the Mission Valley Power conference room to discuss development of the new CSKT Court Appointed Special Advocate program. (Lailani Upham photo)
Soukup said that waking up at 4 a.m. worrying about his decisions in juvenile court drove him to train volunteers to investigate a child’s case and provide a voice that could affect the entire course of the child’s life. He said in the early CASA development meetings some one asked him if he was worried that volunteers would become emotionally involved with the children. He said if they didn’t they had the wrong volunteers.
After he retired from superior court bench Soukup became a volunteer of the program himself.
The advisory team held their first meeting recently to refine the program outline to fit a child in need of advocacy in the CSKT tribal court system.
• Make a commitment to serve as a CASA-GAL for a minimum of 14 months up to 2 years in some instances.
• Be 21 years of age.
• Be willing to donate 6-10 hours per month.
• Attend training sessions and review all training materials provided by CASA.
• Maintain objectivity and professionalism in dealing with children, parents and all other parties involved in the case.
• Possess verbal and written communication skills.
• Respect and be familiar with cultural values, traditions and culture of native children being served.
• The role of a CASA-GAL Volunteer
CASA-GAL’s will serve as an arm of the Tribal Court and child advocate who:
• Interview child, parents, foster parents and any other concerned parties or relatives.
• Review appropriate records and reports.
• Confer with counselors, teachers, social workers and others involved in the child’s life.
• Submit thorough, independent written reports to the Court prior to court hearings.
• Appear in Court as needed to answer questions or testify on findings or recommendations.
• Maintain records of all findings and document all contacts.
• Visit institutions, foster homes or group homes where child is placed or may be placed.
• Monitor court orders to ensure services to the child are being furnished in a timely manner and placement is appropriate.
• Maintain contact with the Program Manager and submit all documentation.
• Remain involved in the case until the case is dismissed or child is placed in safe permanent care.
The first step? Recruiting volunteers.
Volunteers who train to become a CSKT CASA supporter will receive 30 hours of free training to act as advocates in the tribal court system. “It can be a rewarding experience, but it does take a lot of work, commitment and energy,” Colman-Herak said.
The average schedule will be an appointment to one child for a minimum of 14 months on up to 2 years.
“A CASA role typically involves 12 – 15 hours a month of conducting interviews with people involved in a child’s life,” Colman-Herak said. Interviews involve parents, foster parents, relatives, teachers, doctors, mental health professionals and social workers. “Our CASA advocates will never be put in a situation of having to ‘wing-it.’ They will be well trained, confident, and supported.”
Advisory Committee members are: Arlene Templer, DHRD Department Head; Gary Acevedo, TANF social worker; James Steele Jr., SKC Success Coach Director; Charity Stubb, CASA Missoula Executive Director; Yolanda Page, Tribal Legal Attorney; Laurence Ginnings, CSKT Tribal Prosecutor; Winona Tanner, CSKT Chief Judge; Craige Couture, CSKT Tribal Chief of Police; Gary Woodcock, TSSD Social Worker; Carole Lankford, CSKT Tribal Council Representative Ronan; Shelly Fyant, CSKT Tribal Council Representative Arlee; Patty Stevens, CSKT Tribal Council Representative St. Ignatius; Teresa Wall McDonald, CSKT Tribal Council Support.
For information to become a CASA volunteer advocate contact Roxana Colman-Herak, CSKT DHRD CASA Program Director at (406) 210-7343 or email at Roxana.firstname.lastname@example.org