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Photo from CASA website Photo from CASA website

Uplifting forces in the lives of children

Consider this column the facts, just the facts. Oh, I could rev up my creative juices to convey a very real, ongoing need for people to step up and volunteer in behalf of children, living in crisis-filled, troubled homes.

I could tell sad but true stories about kids as young as 3 years old, acting out and already abusing younger siblings. I could provide statistics like the one I heard at a CASA training session recently from a domestic violence counselor who told the audience she’s worked with 4,000 victims and 4,000 perpetrators of domestic violence in this area alone over the past 30 years.

I could go on and on, but I believe the public is privy to enough media reports about the unfortunate lives many young people experience while in unstable home situations. Sadly, lurid details associated with such cases have become all too familiar every time we turn on the evening news or read daily papers.

Instead of dwelling on the negative, I’d like to touch on some ways that caring individuals from our community can lend a hand and, in turn, become uplifting forces in the lives of children beset by violence, fear and uncertainty.

Thanks to the work of organizations like Kinderhaven, Angels over Sandpoint, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and a cadre of foster families, I can report that positive stories about great successes of young people from troubled home situations do abound.

Local CASA supervisor Judy Labrie called me recently, asking for help in getting the word out to potential volunteers/donors. With recent legislative cuts in state programs, the need for volunteerism and community support is greater than ever. 

So, if you’re reading this column and would like to contribute something as part of “our village, rearing its children,” maybe you’ll see an appropriate pathway to get started.

Let me cut to the quick.

You can become a CASA volunteer. CASA volunteers monitor and provide an objective voice for children to the court. Their work begins after children involved in unstable, negligent or abusive situations are moved by law enforcement from their homes to the state’s custody, either at Kinderhaven or to foster homes.

Generally, CASA volunteers work on a team (social workers, judge, etc.), focusing on a specific case for up to a year. The heaviest work load for gathering and imparting information usually occurs during the first month.

Effective volunteers must be open-minded, objective and flexible with their time. Some computer skills and access to email are essential. CASA trainers emphasize the need to avoid becoming a “rescuer” or becoming too enmeshed in the lives of the children.

Area volunteers receive training, guidance and support from longtime Sandpoint residents Judy Labrie and Holly Carroll, both highly respected CASA volunteer supervisors and case managers. Their office is located at 819, HWY 2, Suite 206 in Sandpoint (208-255-7408).

“I tell volunteers in training that you will meet the most amazing people doing this work, from the children, the parents, foster parents, social workers and other volunteers,” Labrie says. “The fact is that most children (65 percent) are reunited with their parents.”

Many advocates like Sandpoint native Patty Murphy, a 2-year CASA volunteer, are parents themselves, and many have prior professional experience with young people. Murphy has worked with special needs children since her Sandpoint High School days. Her career as an Alaskan educator included teaching K-12 special education, a stint as a special ed. administrator and as a school principal.

“I love being able to shed light on topics for the judge,” she says. “I love it most when I think to look at something that others may not have thought about and sharing that to make the child’s experience better.”

Rhonda Tate, a local business owner with a longtime passion for kids, has also volunteered for two years.

“Probably most rewarding are the comments you get back from people you’re involved with,” she says. “I have kids tell me they love me. I got a Christmas present from one child this year... it goes on and on.

“I have learned a lot about myself since becoming a CASA,” she adds. “I realize that I have something to offer people... can add to other people’s lives... and feel much happier, knowing that I may have helped someone even if it is in a small way.”

Potential advocates go through background checks and are sworn by a magistrate judge after successfully completing ten training sessions. Their education also includes many hours spent shadowing veteran CASA volunteers.

“I have high regard for CASA,” says Magistrate Judge Debra Heise. “...  they conduct their own independent investigations and make recommendations regarding the children’s best interests... they have a high degree of credibility among judges.”

May is “National Foster Care Month” and all the more reason to consider the possibilities, says longtime foster parent Monique Miller. For the past ten years, Miller, a recruiter peer mentor, and her husband Keith Clyde have welcomed numerous children into their rural home north of Sandpoint. They can share phenomenal success stories about each experience.

“We have had children from 4 to 18 years old, with as many as ten children in the house at one time,” she recalls. “Over the years we have had support of our friends, neighbors, community and the Health and Welfare Department.” Foster families also receive monthly reimbursements to help with expenses.

Miller stresses that while foster homes generally serve as a temporary setting for children, licensed parents often have the opportunity to adopt their foster children. It’s vital for these parents to remember, however, that in each situation, the ultimate goal in any child protective situation is to reunite the children with their birth parents.

Nonetheless, positive connections with the foster parents continue after most children return to their birth homes.

“We have attended many soccer games, 4-H events, plays and recitals. We have celebrated birthdays, holidays and graduations with birth families,” Miller says. “I know it does truly take a village to raise a child.”

Idaho Youth Ranch, through its family services office, supervises licensing of foster parents in North Idaho (208-667-1898). Applicants must submit to background checks, provide references and information about the home. Prospective foster parents must complete a 27-hour P.R.I.D.E training program. In addition, social workers make three licensing visits to the home.

After licensing is completed, foster families work with the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare with placement of children.

Miller says one way for people who’d like to break into the foster system gently is to consider providing a “respite home” where children stay weekends or for just a few days to give other foster parents a break.

Both Labrie and Miller say there’s a critical need for more availability of foster families throughout geographic areas to lessen the chance of children going through added trauma of having to change schools while living in the state’s custody.

Ways to donate time/money/items. New or gently used clothing can be donated to Kinderhaven (P.O. Box 2097, Sandpoint, ID, 208-265-2236, [email protected])

or to Love Inc. (227 McGhee Road, Sandpoint, 208-263-6378).

Labrie says it’s sometimes easier to donate gift cards (TJ Max, Ross Dress for Less, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penneys, etc.) so that teens can find clothing appropriate for them.

For youth organizations, cultural activities and sports, Angels Over Sandpoint responds quickly to requests approved by CASA or DHW social workers.

“We have been given funds for sports gear, swim lessons, graduation photos, etc.,” Labrie says. AOS will also accept donations to help kids enroll in art classes, swimming lessons, day camps and 4-H activities. Contact information: 208.597.3670, P.O. Box 2369, Sandpoint, Idaho 83864, [email protected]

Labrie also suggests linking up with foster families to learn how they can receive extra support.

“It would be helpful if individual families got more direct community support,” she explains. “They often don’t have extra funds to do social things like go to the movies, provide art classes, etc.”

Finally, organizations such as CASA (1st Judicial District, Idaho CASA Program, Inc., 206 E. Indiana Ave., #208, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814) Kinderhaven and Angels over Sandpoint happily accept financial donations to help cover continuing costs of training, recruiting, supervising, operating costs, etc.

Postscript---Judy Labrie: There is nothing like seeing a parent completely turn their life around to make a safe, stable home for their children. I’ve heard more than one mom thank the judge, in drug court and in the CPA case... if it were not for the CPA case, the parent could not imagine what would have happened without that intervention.

It’s truly an honor to see these critical life changes for the children and their families.

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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

Tagged as:

children, CASA, Kinderhaven, Angels Over Sandpoint

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