The History of CASA of the Continental Divide (CASACD)
After 20 years judging figure skating, Debby Webster, a Vail resident, wanted to have an impact of an entirely different group of children. She learned about CASA; discovered there was no CASA organization locally; and set out to create CASACD. Starting by obtaining the support of the presiding judge His Honorable Judge Terry Ruckriegle and then developing local support, Debby inaugurated CASA services in the 5th judicial district.
CASA of the Continental Divide had its first organizational meeting on June 5, 1998. Prior to that time, contact had been made with Colorado CASA, the state wide organization, and discussion had taken place with the Chief Judge of the 5th Judicial District, Terry Ruckriegle the Director of Social Services in Summit County Susan Gruber and the Director of Health and Human Services in Eagle County Kathleen Forinash. All of the contacts resulted in support for a CASA program in the district.
At the June 5th meeting all three of the district judges were in attendance along with representatives from Social Services, Human Services, attorneys, psychologists, school personnel, private social service agency personnel, and members of the business community. The group reached a consensus to move ahead with the organization of a CASA program in Summit and Eagle counties, with planned expansion into Lake and Clear Creek Counties as soon as the initial programs were established. Those four counties comprise the 5th Judicial District. An open steering committee of all interested parties was formed. A database of contacts was established. That list included board members, community contacts, members of the steering committee, those who had indicated an interest in becoming a CASA volunteer and anyone who requested information about the CASA program. CASA of the Continental Divide and Colorado CASA maintained regular contact with Colorado CASA through out the process to be sure that all policies and recommended practices were followed as they do to this day.
A Mission Statement for CASA of the Continental Divide was adopted on July 20, 1998. It was “CASA of the Continental Divide will advocate for the best interest of children by interfacing with agencies and families to ultimately ensure a safe, permanent home for every child.” A three person incorporated board of directors was formed and Articles of Incorporation were filed in late July of that year. Membership in the National CASA association was granted in August. Bylaws were adopted on November 30, 1998 and CASA of the Continental Divide was established as a 501c3 February 18, 1999.
Our first case was assigned in March 2000. In the first year and a half we provided services in Eagle and Summit counties. We began providing services in Clear Creek County in 2001 and in Lake County in January 2002.
Programs and Accomplishments
Child Advocacy: The heart of our program is serving children who are involved in a Dependency & Neglect (D&N) case. These children have been abused or neglected by their parents, and, nearly always, removed from their home. Each D&N case referred by a judge is assigned a CASA volunteer who makes a commitment to advocate for the child/ren for the duration of the case, for perhaps as long as twelve to eighteen months.
A CASA volunteer’s Job is to:
1) Determine if an appropriate plan for reunification with their parents has been created for the child, that appropriate services are being provided to the child and family, and whether the treatment plan is progressing in a timely manner.
2) Determine if it is in a child’s best interest to stay with his or her parents or guardians, be placed in foster care, or be freed for adoption. The CASA volunteer makes a recommendation on placement to the judge, and remains active on the case until it is permanently resolved.
3) To prepare a recommendation, the CASA volunteer conducts an independent investigation that includes interviews with the child, parents, family members, social workers, school personnel, health providers and others who are knowledgeable about the child – historically and currently. The CASA volunteer has authorized access to all records relating to the child, parent, legal guardian, or other parties in interest, as the court deems necessary.
Approximately 80% of our cases are the result of parental substance abuse. We collaborate with the Departments of Human Services, Guardians ad Litem, and other professionals providing services to the child or family, such as Child Find, chemical dependency treatment, parenting training, schools, and counselors.
CASA Truancy Program: To further our mission of court advocacy for children, CASA of the Continental Divide also provides educational advocacy for the counties we serve. Our pilot program began in 2015 working with Summit School District and is currently expanding. Truancy is a symptom of something occurring in a child’s life. Since attendance is mandated by law within the State of Colorado, when the school has been unsuccessful at correcting attendance issues the next step is to open a court-centered truancy case. The Judge often appoints a Truancy CASA to assist both the courts and the families in discovering what the issue is preventing school attendance and school success. CASA’s are also often instrumental in identifying supportive services that will bring the child success. Supporting Kids to the best of our abilities and advocating for their success is our goal.
Who We Are & What We Do
CASA of the Continental Divide consists of 3 full time and 3 part time staff. Our programs is guided by our valuable Board of Directors who bring their valuable skills from the community to our program. Our programs are driven by 65 Child Advocate Volunteers who work hard making sure that the child they serve is being cared for well and receiving loving support through a difficult process. Last year our Volunteers and Board Members donated over 5000+ hours of their time and drove over 45,000 miles on behalf of CASA and the children we serve.
CASA of the Continental Divide provides court requested advocacy for abused and neglected children in Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District. We currently have 47 volunteers are appointed to a case serving 63 individual children. Our goal is to be appointed for, and have volunteers serving 100% of child welfare and truancy cases throughout the district.
CASA of the Continental Divide serves a large area of the Colorado mountain region. Our program covers the 3,069 square miles of Eagle, Lake, Summit, and Clear Creek Counties. We attend proceedings 4 Court Houses, work with 4 Departments of Human Services, and attend to advocacy for children in foster care who are living in Eagle, Lake, Summit and Clear Creek Counties. Due to lack of foster families within the child’s home counties the children are often placed in Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and sometimes even out of state. Our Volunteers make a huge impact and commitment when they Advocate for Kids in need.