Elizabeth Doney Havre Daily News email@example.com
Last Wednesday, the Hill County District Court appointed five new volunteers to become a voice for the abused and neglected children of the area and serve on the non-profit organization called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Abused Children). CASA is a national program that began in Seattle in the late 1970s by a judge who noticed that nobody was speaking for the abused and neglected children in the courtroom. It grew into the only volunteer organization that empowers everyday citizens as appointed members of the court in an overburden social welfare system. Hill County adopted the CASA program for the past decade and began to implement it’s objectives in their own courtroom proceedings involving children beginning with 12th Judicial District Court Judge John Warner and continuing with current District Judge David Rice. “Havre doesn’t have the kids actually come into court, though some courts do,” Rice said. “I am pondering that in these abuse and neglect cases. Right now, CASA means that there is an organized program with trained advocates who will represent the interest of these children in the courtroom. I think it has been very effective for the kids to have a voice in these matters.” The new CASA’s are Lyle Dille, Dena Rudio, Juanita Kinniburgh, Linda Gerhart, Debe VandeBoom and they join the longtime member Kelly Mazurkiewicz and director of the Havre CASA, Joanne Kurtz. “Abuse and neglect cases are overloaded in Hill County and yet I go into this very hesitantly because of the tremendous amount of responsibility. I know that these children need an advocate more than anyone ... they need a voice. I want to make sure that it’s there,” said new CASA Juanita Kinniburgh, a mother of five and grandmother of 14. The volunteers will be responsible for gathering information pertinent to the child’s case from various sources including family members, doctors, school officials, lawyers, social workers and others. They will then evaluate the documentation and prepare a written report to Judge Rice that is non-judgmental and speaks for the best interest of the child they are assigned to represent. They will be present in the courtroom with their evaluation. The CASAs have gone through 30 hours of training and will continue to update their training every year with at least 12 additional hours. They each will be assigned one child by the guardian ad litem involved in the cases, attorney Bob Peterson. According to Peterson, “The whole point of the organization is to assist the judge in making good decisions about what to do with children that are abused or neglected by parents.” Peterson estimates that there are roughly 30 child welfare cases open right now in Hill County District Court, six of which will be represented by a CASA. The nation has more than 225,000 welfare cases open in the United States with only 50,000 represented by a CASA. The main goals that each advocate must remain focused on are; to speak for the best interests of the abused and neglected children; and to make a difference ... one child at a time. Funding for CASA is limited and provided in part by United Way and the Supreme Court Administrators Office on a case to case basis. Donations are welcome and accepted as the cost of assigning a advocate to a child is approximately $841. The Havre CASA Office is located at the District IV Human Resources Development Council building at 2229 Fifth Ave. To become involved with CASA, can contact Joanne Kurtz, director at 265-6743, ext. 135.