Organization Information:

Organization Name:
CASA-CAN Children's Advocate Network
City & State:
Great Falls, 
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

CASA-CAN’s extraordinary dedication to providing abused and neglected children with specially trained and caring volunteer guardians ad litem is motivated by the best interest of the children. We will diligently continue to support children at risk until the need is eliminated and every child resides in a safe, permanent and loving home.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

The Montana Code Annotated, Section 41-3-112. Guardian ad litem. (1) In every judicial proceeding, the court shall appoint for any child alleged to be abused or neglected a guardian ad litem. CASA-CAN recruits, trains, supervises and supports qualified volunteers sworn in as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) by the 8th Judicial District Court. CASA-CAN volunteer guardians ad litem act as voices in court for the children, who are unable to speak for themselves. CASA guardians ad litem in youth-in-need-of-care cases investigate the children’s circumstances, prepare court reports, and advocate for the children’s best interests. The Montana code allows for the guardian ad litem being either a paid attorney or a trained CASA volunteer. National CASA statistics show that CASA volunteer advocates are more likely than paid attorneys to visit children in their homes and more likely to investigate whether there are appropriate services for the child and family. CASA advocates handle just 1 or 2 cases at a time so they can give each child’s case the sustained personal attention he or she deserves. CASA volunteers are highly effective in getting their recommendations accepted in court. Last year, CASA-CAN recommendations for permanent placement were accepted in 92% of cases closed. Children with CASA guardians ad litem may receive more court-ordered services because of the volunteer’s detailed knowledge of the child’s circumstances. In 2006, US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit of the National CASA Association showed that nationally, children with a CASA guardian ad litem are less likely to spend time in long-term foster care, defined as more than 3 years: 13.3% for CASA cases versus 27% of all children in foster care. Cases involving a CASA advocate are less likely to reenter the system than cases without a CASA. Nationally 9% of CASA children reenter the system compared to 16% for children not served by CASA. Thus children represented by CASA volunteer guardians ad litem are more likely to be in safe permanent homes within the Adoption Safe Families Act guidelines of 18 months. In a system where children are moved from one placement to another an average of 3.34 times, the CASA volunteer may be the only constant person in their lives. The CASA guardian ad litem will remain with the child throughout the life of the case to advocate for a timely resolution. The goal is that each child can be in a safe permanent home as soon as possible. CASA-CAN’s long term goal is to serve every abused and neglected child in Cascade County. That goal is within our reach. Since July 1, 2006, we have been able to assign a CASA guardian ad litem to every new child to enter the system. Thus, CASA-CAN is currently serving 97% al all children in youth-in-need-of-care in Cascade County. This is compared to 56% in 2006. If we are to continue to serve every new child, we must go on recruiting and training additional qualified individuals as volunteer advocates, as well as working diligently to retain experienced guardians. Striving for excellence, we provide the high level of advocacy that abused and neglected children deserve from a CASA guardian ad litem. Volunteer advocates face daily issues of child physical, emotional, and sexual abuse frequently compounded with the problems of substance abuse in the family of origin. Volunteer burnout is a serious job hazard. By adequately preparing volunteer guardians ad litem for their work and developing a daily ongoing retention plan with open communication, support, recognition, and on-going training, CASA-CAN Board and staff believe that it will be possible to reduce the loss of volunteers to burnout by keeping them invested in both the program and the families with whom they work. Twenty-seven new guardians ad litem were trained and sworn in during 2008. During the year, 100 CASA guardians ad litem contributed 5830 hours advocating for the children they served. One hundred percent of volunteer advocates discharged last year had served over 2 years. The average length of service for these resigning guardians ad litem was 37 months. Thus, this past year we surpassed our objective to retain 75% of guardians ad litem for at least 2 years. One hundred and forty-four new children entered the court system during 2008. This is an increase from 107 during 2007. CASA-CAN assigned a volunteer advocate to each of these children, for a total of 266 children served last year. One hundred and thirty-three children were placed permanently and had cases close during 2008. Eighty-five percent of these cases closed within 18 months. Our objectives for 7/1/09 to 6/30/10 are to serve 75 new children for a total of 250 children; recruit 20 new guardians ad litem, retain 75% of our volunteers for at least 2 years; advocate for children served by CASA-CAN to be in permanent placements within the Adoption Safe Family Act guidelines of 18 months, and continue to conduct an annual fundraising event and a direct mail appeal. CASA-CAN depends on the Microsoft donation program through TechSoup for software used for all written communication. From simple letters and complex court reports to full color brochures and newsletters, all are created with Microsoft Office 2007. With a volunteer pool of this size, electronic correspondence is our primary communication for notification of court hearings, training opportunities, transmittal of court documents and other pertinent information that our volunteer advocates need in order to best serve the children they represent. CASA-CAN depends on government and private foundation grants as major funding sources for the program. Many now require online grant submission which requires conversion of grant proposals to PDF files. We rely on Word 2007 to convert documents for compliance with the grantor requirements. Publisher 2007 is used exclusively in all marketing projects. Newsletters, flyers, posters and direct mail appeals are all produced in that program. The Program Coordinator has created new full color brochures and developed the template for the quarterly newsletter using Publisher 2007. The newsletter is mailed to over 1400 individuals in Montana as well as to contacts across the nation. Recipients include donors, prospective donors, volunteers, Board members, and community partners. Our National CASA database, COMET is an Access Program. COMET used by staff on a daily basis tracks all volunteer and case information required for program evaluation. The statistics are necessary for grant writing and reporting as well as statistical reports to the Supreme Court of Montana. If a CASA-CAN volunteer is not available an attorney is appointed as guardian ad litem at the cost to the taxpayers of $60 per hour. CASA-CAN receives a stipend from the Supreme Court of Montana in the amount of $28,020 per year. During the calendar year of 2008, volunteer guardians ad litem invested 5830 hours on children’s cases, a savings to taxpayers of thousands of dollars. At $60 an hour, the cost would have been $349,800 if CASA-CAN volunteers were paid by the hour. CASA-CAN is the only program of its’ kind in the 8th Judicial Court of Montana. CASA guardians ad litem provide a powerful voice for abused and neglected children in our community. Microsoft donations are a crucial part of our advocacy. Thank you for making these donations available. Please consider us for this award.

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery