On February 28, our office received the initial court documents for DN 19-065. To most people, that string of letters and numbers would have little significance, but in fact it tells us a lot. The DN stands for Dependency & Neglect, which is the type of legal proceeding that pertains to children being removed from their home due to abuse or neglect. The 19 is probably the easiest to figure out, as it’s just the year that the case was opened. The final three numbers are the most significant, for you see, DN 19-065 is actually a person. DN 19-065 was the 65th child removed from their home so far this year. Not statewide – in Yellowstone County alone.

This, of course, is unsettling. Before February was even over, state child protection specialists had to remove 65 children from the care of their parents due to those children being abused or severely neglected, right here in our community. If you do the math, that means that so far in 2019, more than one child on average has been removed for these reasons every day.

Many of these children will be able to receive a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate to speak up for their best interests for the duration of their time in the system, however many months or years that might be. At the end of February, there were 146 Court Appointed Special Advocates serving 336 children in Yellowstone County foster care. It is a great accomplishment for our program to be serving more children than ever before. With that being said, many of the children entering foster care this year will never be appointed a CASA. You see, there are almost 900 children in the local foster care system in total, which means that more than 500 children are already on the waiting list for an Advocate. Factor in the hundreds of new children projected to enter foster care by the end of the year, and you can understand why people use the word “crisis.”

Sadly, there is not much our Court Appointed Special Advocates can do for the children that are outside of our program’s capacity to serve. But for the 336 children who do have a CASA, they have someone visiting and checking up on them regularly at the foster home and school. They have someone who is putting together a written report every month advocating for their best interests, and going to court to tell the judge what they need. Throughout the length of a case, which on average lasts 18 to 24 months, social workers will change, attorneys will change, foster care placements will change, and schools will change. In contrast, each Court Appointed Special Advocate makes a commitment to stay with the child throughout the duration of their time in the foster care system. These children have a constant in a time of inconsistency and turmoil.

Do you know someone who could be a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate for one of the hundreds of children in foster care waiting for a CASA? Could you be an Advocate, for one of the hundreds more soon to be removed?

We’re only two months in.

Ben McKee is the Development Director for CASA of Yellowstone County.