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TGB Hears Proposal for Local CASA Program

By Joe Morey

News Editor

Judge Elaine Smith (left) with Sue Schwartz
Judge Elaine Smith (left) with Sue Schwartz

The LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) is considering a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program for the LCO Family Court after hearing a proposal from the Wisconsin State CASA Director, Sue Schwartz on Monday, Feb. 10.

LCO Chief Judge Elaine Smith invited Schwartz to LCO for the presentation. Judge Smith told the TGB how valuable the program is for children after having been a CASA herself in Texas.

CASA is a national association in the United States that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children in order to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes. CASA's role is to gather information and make recommendations to the judge in the best interest of the child.

Schwartz explained a CASA as a citizen volunteer.

“When there is a minor in need, they meet with the child for an hour once a week. They advocate for the best interest of the child,” Schwartz stated. “The CASA shares with the judge the needs of the child and how things are going and what’s best in working towards reunification with the parents. The strength with CASA is that they will hear more from a child that won’t share things with a social worker because they know they can be removed from the home. They’ll say more with a CASA.”

Schwartz said although the state CASA program works with Oneida Nation, it is through the state court system. This would be the first time they have worked with a tribal court.

“National CASA knows I am here today and they will help us in anyway,” Schwartz said.

The local program would have a full-time staff member as a supervisor and hopefully that person would be a tribal member, added Schwartz. Under the supervisor would be the CASA volunteers who should all be tribal members.

Judge Smith noted ICW is understaffed so this would be a great resource. “Every child deserves a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), but there isn’t enough. From my experience, the judge wants to hear from a CASA over a GAL. A judge really values the opinion of a CASA because GAL’s are too busy and often don’t talk with the children.”

Schwartz added that the Judge hears the personal side from a CASA. “People are so busy in the child welfare system, they don’t have the time. CASA adds additional layers of safety.”

Judge Smith said a CASA doesn’t make any decisions and it’s ultimately up to the judge.

“CASA’s have to get 40 hours of training. It’s pretty organized and reports are well-informed. All volunteers have extensive background checks and 12 hours of ongoing training per year,” Schwartz said.

According to National CASA Association, there are more than 85,000 advocates serving in nearly 1,000 state and local program offices in the United States. Each year more than a quarter of a million children are assisted through CASA services.


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