Over the course of their work, Court Appointed Special Advocates often hear that their work matters, that they have made a difference. But what kind of difference? After all, it is not the Advocates themselves who make the decisions about these kids’ lives. The judges of the 13th District Court make those tough decisions.
At recent CASA events, several of those judges spoke about the impact Advocates have had in their courtroom. They emphasized the importance of Advocates to their decision-making in DN cases. At a lunchtime CASA training event on February 12, 2019, Hon. Jessica T. Fehr pointed out that CASAs are the only ones in the courtroom without a legal angle to pursue — the CASA is always for the child. With the ever-growing caseloads faced by social workers and guardians ad litem, CASAs have the freedom to get to know the kids like no one else in the courtroom.
At another lunchtime training event at the CASA offices on March 12, 2019, Hon. Donald L. Harris grew emotional when considering the fact that CASAs make a commitment to standing by their CASA kids through thick and thin. He said that there’s a difference in his courtroom when it comes to cases that have a CASA, especially when the CASA presents opposing viewpoints from those taken by the social worker or GAL. “It takes a lot of courage” to take an opposing position in the best interests of the child, he said. To that end, in CASA reports and statements in his courtroom, he appreciates independence from other viewpoints — those of the Department, birth parents, and even placements.
Judge Harris also shared with Advocates and staff that he appreciates the information provided in CASA reports and court appearances. He has learned of things like children’s unmet counseling needs from CASA reports — sometimes the “first and only time I hear about it,” he said.
Judge Harris echoed Judge Fehr when he applauded the insight that CASAs bring to his courtroom, adding that CASAs have presented him with options for placement that others never brought to light on some of his cases.
While swearing in 30 new Advocates on March 13, 2019, Hon. Rod Souza thanked them for their upcoming service. “You will make a difference,” he said. Noting that the children always need to be the focus of the judges in these cases, he said, “You will be their voice. And our district needs your voices now more than ever.”
To the community member who is considering giving time or financial support to CASA of Yellowstone County and wondering what our impact is, to the Advocate in the middle of a case that does not seem to have an end in sight and is wondering what effect they have had so far — you do make a difference! The judges see it and thank you for it. Together, we can make an impact for the sake of children in our community.
Ashley Milsop is a Program Coordinator for CASA of Yellowstone County.
Each judge referred to in this article granted permission to be cited here. We thank them for their willingness to support our Court Appointed Special Advocates, and we thank all of the judges of the 13th District Court for their dedication to justice.