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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 29, 2001 - Issue 52


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CASA director tells of need for American Indian, male advocates

by Mary Gales Askren Pierre Capital City Journal-December 12, 2001
credits: Sharing the Berries by Ray Swanson
Sharing the Berries by Ray SwansonIndividuals dealing with abused and neglected children see this. They see that love is not the issue when children's physical and emotional needs are not being met in their homes.

"Every child wants to be with their parent," said court-appointed special advocate Ruth Inman. She said this is true even when there are problems, even if there isn't food in the refrigerator.

"That doesn't take a child's love away from its mother. Or, in all of this, the mother's love away from her child," Inman said.

This is one of the complicating issues that a judge must weigh when determining the future of a child who has been removed from a home for abuse or neglect. To assist judges in the Sixth Judicial Circuit in making these kinds of decisions, a program of Court Appointed Special Advocates was established in Pierre.

CASA volunteers research the child's situation, report to the court, and advocate the child's best interests before the court.

"Your main interest is the child," Inman said.

However, there is a shortage of volunteers to assign to cases in the Pierre area, according to CASA Executive Director Robert Bartlett. Right now there are three cases which need advocates, he said.

"I have everybody assigned that has been trained. Anything that comes up now, it's a matter of saying, 'No, we don't have an advocate to assign to this particular case,'" Bartlett said.

Bartlett said there is a special need for American Indian and male advocates at the present time.

"About 60 percent of the children that we will be working with are Native American. And at least 50 percent of them will be male. It might be even more than that," he said.

Bartlett said that a young boy who doesn't have a father figure might benefit from having a male advocate, and that male advocates might have a different perspective in some instances.

While working with a specific case, a volunteer will work approximately 10 to 12 hours per month, according to Bartlett. When the case is being developed, more time may be needed, he said.

"I think initially there's more hours, more than 12 or more than 10, but it probably averages out over the length of the case," he said. CASA volunteers are limited to handling one court case at a time.

While this may seem like a lot of time, Inman said the CASA program is an important one.

"You become totally involved in that child's life because you touch everyone that their lives touch ... It just is not possible not to make a difference in that child's life," she said.

Applications are currently being accepted for CASA volunteers. The application process is no more complicated than completing a basic job application. However, individuals who apply are screened to ensure they do not have a criminal history or a history of child abuse which would make them inappropriate CASA volunteers, Bartlett said.

After an interview, successful applicants will complete a 32-hour training course before being assigned to a case. During this training, they will receive information from professionals and role-play various scenarios so they become familiar with situations that may arise, Bartlett said.

Attending training is one way individuals can determine whether the program would be personally fulfilling, he said. Some may find that they are not able to deal with the emotional component of CASA advocacy, according to Bartlett.

"We're dealing with some pretty heavy issues sometimes and not everybody is able to handle those kinds of things," he said.

Those who have a deep love for children and who have an equally deep desire to help children who are hurting may find the experience rewarding, according to Inman.

"It's been very satisfying for me. Absolutely. I would recommend it to anyone who has time," she said.

Those interested in receiving an application to become a CASA volunteer can contact Bartlett at 605-945-0155.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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