As school starts up again, Helena-area parents are busy buying last-minute school supplies for their kids and signing them up for fall sports. Sadly, “back to school” also means an increase in children removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect. Teachers and school staff recognize the telltale signs of children who are lacking basic necessities, and report their concerns to Child and Family Services. If the concern is validated, children may be removed from their homes to be placed with family members or in foster care.

Helena is fortunate to have many organizations and agencies to assist children in this process of upheaval and restoration. I am writing today on behalf of one nonprofit that is a consistent presence in these children’s lives: CASA — Advocates for Kids. “CASA” stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, and while the volunteers who advocate on behalf of neglected and abused kids are appointed by a judge, they are a part of the children’s lives both in and out of court. Oftentimes a CASA volunteer is the one individual who remains by the child’s side throughout the whole process of establishing permanency for the child. Their job is to speak up for the child to ensure that their needs are met and they aren’t “lost” in the overtaxed child welfare system. Children with CASA volunteers benefit in many ways. They are more likely to be placed in safe and permanent homes, more likely to receive better services, and less likely to encounter numerous placement changes. 

The program in Helena started in 1998, and from its inception, every child brought under court protection has been provided a trained CASA volunteer.  Presently, nearly 50 community members serve as advocates for children in the Helena area. Unfortunately, the caseload continues to grow and so too the program’s need to enlist additional advocates. These volunteers come from all walks of life, with varying degrees of education and experience, but all share the same passion: to ensure the voices of children involved in the court system through no fault of their own will be heard.

Without the support of local businesses and individuals, and the dedication of its irreplaceable volunteers, CASA — Advocates for Kids would not be able to perform its vital function in our community today. I wish to thank everyone who has contributed to CASA’s success in the Helena area. I write also in the hope of spreading the word about CASA. If you would like to volunteer with this amazing program, please contact the CASA office at 457-0797 or helena-casa@qwestoffice.net. If you would like to contribute financially to allow CASA to continue providing a trained and capable advocate to every child in the community who needs one, please go to our website at www.helenacasa.org and donate online or send donations to CASA — Advocates for Kids, 133 Reeder’s Alley, Helena, MT 59601. Your support is greatly appreciated by both CASA and the vulnerable children it serves.

Katy Moore is an AmeriCorps VISTA with CASA — Advocates for Kids.

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