Judge David Soukup was instrumental in creating a program of community volunteers that would support and represent children’s needs, such as the Volunteer Guardian ad Litem Program that began in King County, Seattle, Wash. Out of his efforts other organizations began and spread nationally. The National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association was created in 1982. Their goal was to increase the number of child advocates nationwide.
To be a CASA volunteer an individual must be screened and trained by the CASA program and appointed by the court to advocate for children who come into the system primarily as a result of alleged abuse or neglect. They respect a child’s inherent right to grow up with dignity in a safe environment that meets the child’s best interest and assures he is represented in court at every stage of the case. “Best interest“ means a safe and permanent home as quickly as possible.
To be able to achieve this a volunteer must know the abused or neglected child well enough to identify his needs. Based on facts gathered after spending much time with the child and everyone involved in his life, the volunteer advocate makes recommendations to the court concerning appropriate resources to meet the child’s needs. The advocate also informs the court of the child’s wishes and his opinion as to what is in the best interest of the child.
A CASA’s work includes an investigation, which is an objective examination of the situation taking into consideration relevant history, environment and relationships affecting the needs of the child. Next, they identify resources and services that, in collaboration with all parties involved, will create a situation to meet the child’s needs. The CASA represents the child’s best interest in a written report to the court. Their last commitment is to keep track of the orders of the court and see that they are being followed and report to the protective service agencies and the court if they are not.
It is important that an advocate gain firsthand knowledge of the child and his/her personality, abilities and needs. It is essential to recognize strengths of a family, as well as weaknesses. Ethics, accountability, confidentiality, resourcefulness, critical thinking and good judgement must all be a part of the professionalism of a CASA.
Cultural differences play a role in understanding a child’s environment in being able to properly assess a child and his family. Life experiences influence the way a situation is interpreted. The more aware a CASA is of a family’s geographical, educational and socioeconomic status, the better the perspective to be gained while observing children and families.
Communication is essential. Therefore, a multidisciplinary team meets monthly. The team usually includes an attorney, DFS case worker, therapist, representative from school, parents and their attorney and the CASA. Sometimes to help a child one must help the parent. For example, maybe the parent can’t read and it is becoming detrimental to the child.
MJ Buffy Burris, CASA training coordinator, said, “We are seeing a lot of substance abuse in the Basin. One of our hopes is if we can help a family it can stop a continuum of neglect or abuse, which will give that child what he is worthy of.”
Often children will go on with the same behavior they experienced as a child in their own parenting. CASAs want to build the resilience of the child. Working together, those issues can be resolved. This is why 236 Wyoming volunteers traveled 19,875 miles serving a total of 10,100 hours to service 558 children in 2015.
“Our CASAs are all volunteers who have a passion for these children,” Burris said. “They put in many hours of training and work diligently when they’re appointed to a case.”
For more information about CASA contact Ellen Klym, executive director, at 307-587-4361.
Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A.) was founded in 1995 by John Paul “Chief” Lilly. As a licensed clinical social worker, he has spent the majority of 20 years treating abused children. He was aware that even with court mandated protective orders and removing perpetrators from neighborhoods, it is physically impossible to provide protection for abused children 24 hours a day. B.A.C.A. provides a safer world for children.
B.A.C.A., from their mission statement, “exists as a body of bikers to empower children to not feel afraid of the world in which they live. We desire to send a clear message to all involved with the abused child that this child is part of our organization, and that we are prepared to lend our physical and emotional support to them by affiliation, and our physical presence.”
The local chapter, Devil’s Canyon Chapter, was formed 2½ years ago and serves Big Horn, Park, Washakie and Hot Springs counties. There are eight members in this local chapter, which is one of six in the state totaling about 60 members. B.A.C.A. organizations of 9,000 members can be found in 47 states and nine other countries.
To be a B.A.C.A. member a person must be a biker 18 years or older. He/she must have a federal fingerprinted background check. He must attend monthly meetings, court hearings and ride with a chapter for a minimum of one year. Then he is presented to the governing board of directors and must be unanimously accepted to be member.
Members are trained in areas of childhood trauma, the effects of abuse on a child, effective means of communication with victims of childhood abuse and biker conduct with children at annual conferences, as well as from a licensed mental health professional with which they have access.
B.A.C.A. can become involved with a child only after the abuse has been reported to law enforcement and the organization has been contacted by the children’s legal guardian. Also, the perpetrator cannot be living where the child lives.
“We don’t deal with the perpetrator. The law does,” said Vito, local public relations officer for the Devil’s Canyon chapter.
The initial contact B.A.C.A. has with the child and his/her family is made by the security officer and president. While there the members note the physical features of the house, such as entrances, fences and gates. From this meeting they will give a report to the executive board who votes on whether to take the case or not.
Two primaries will be assigned to the child. A call will be made to the B.A.C.A. world and as many bikers as can will ride to the child’s house. He will be given a card with the primaries’ names and numbers where they can be reached. At this time the child chooses a road name. Bikers and children never use their real names for the protection of everyone involved. Nor do the members know the nature of the abuse. Only the child liaison has that information.
The child is given a vest, a teddy bear for younger children, a B.A.C.A. blanket and other trinkets along with a picture of him and his new B.A.C.A. family. This photo reminds the child that he is not alone. Then they take the child for a short ride.
The primaries check on the child every two weeks and will be there any time the child calls. They will accompany them to and from places if the child doesn’t feel safe being alone. The goal is to comfort and empower the child. This is a Level 1 Intervention.
If this is not enough to deter further abuse or harassment several B.A.C.A. members will be sent to the home for further exposure. This presence, a Level 2 Intervention, protects the victim and his family when they are vulnerable. They will stay outside the house all night, working in shifts, if necessary, to empower a child to not be afraid.
If the physical presence does not deter the abuser, a Lever 3 Intervention will be enacted. A formal letter on B.A.C.A. letterhead will be drafted by the chapter president or vice-president to the perpetrator telling him to stop whatever is scaring the child and informs him that “we will do whatever it takes to protect that child.”
A Level 4 Intervention is a Neighborhood Awareness Ride in which B.A.C.A. members ride to the geographical location of the offender and go door to door letting people know about the organization, giving stickers to kids and distributing literature regarding B.A.C.A.’s mission.
B.A.C.A. members will attend court with the abused child to help him feel less intimidated and frightened. Often the child will be more empowered to give an accurate account of his abuse because of B.A.C.A.’s presence.
Another feature of the B.A.C.A. organization is, as Vito put it, “We value our women. In some biker groups women are viewed more as possessions. We value our women. This is very important because a lot of abuse of children happens to a girl by a man. This girl won’t be comfortable with a man and will need a woman to support her. Our women are a very important part. B.A.C.A. is very good for married couples.”
“We’re all here for one reason – one reason only – to empower children,” Vito remarked with conviction. For more information concerning B.A.C.A. contact the helpline, which is connected to the president of the chapter and the child liaison, at 307-254-9652.
Both the CASA and B.A.C.A. organizations work with the Department of Family Services. In Lovell, DFS has two staff members – a case worker and a foster care coordinator.
“The Department of Family Services’ mission is to promote the safety, well-being and self-sufficiency of families through community partnerships. Their goal is to connect people with time-limited resources that promote healthy, safe, self-sufficient families so they can contribute to their communities,” their mission statement reads.
DFS looks at early childhood development, such as Headstart and CRC, as primary preventatives of child abuse and neglect. Education is a very important factor in averting child abuse.
“We try very hard to mitigate that risk. We try to avoid court involvement if we can. If we can get families hooked into services, we hope to prevent child abuse before it reaches the court stage,” said Ed Heimer, area manager.
DFS works closely with schools. When children enter kindergarten they can get counseling services or whatever might be needed for families dealing with stressful situations.
Whenever or wherever child abuse or neglect is being observed contact local law enforcement at 307-548-2215.
By Teressa Ennis