A decision by the Colorado Supreme Court changed the rules for Court Appointed Special Advocate as well as for the 4th Judicial District in El Paso and Teller counties. The change relates to CASA's domestic-relations volunteer program.
Since 1992, the 4th Judicial has been the only district in Colorado to rely on reports from CASA volunteers who act in the interest of the child in conflicted custody disputes. In that time, CASA advocated for 1,000 children in both counties.
“Domestic relations are those extreme nasty divorce cases,” said Dawn Ignatius, president of the CASA board and a resident of Teller County.
The decision mandates that Child Family Investigators be certified and paid for their services in domestic-relations cases in Colorado. While intended to strengthen regulations for privately-paid CFIs, the ruling inadvertently impacted CASA.
In Teller County last year, 19 children were caught in conflicted-divorce cases, each of whom received a CASA volunteer advocate. “I am sorry to hear about the termination of the CASA domestic-relations program,” said 4th Judicial District Judge Robert Lowrey in a press release. “I was hoping we could find a way to work around the decision as currently structured.”
The ruling affects 40 CASA volunteers in both counties, each of whom can petition the state to become trained and certified as private-pay CFIs. “The certified CFIs would then get appointed by the bench,” said Mittie Pedraza, CASA's director of programs. “As part of the rules the state now trains the CFIs and we can't supervise them anymore. Because we can't recruit or train them, edit their reports or go to court with them, there's nothing we can do.”
The new rules cap the private-payment of CFIs at $2,000 per case, or, if the family cannot afford to pay, the state caps the compensation at $1,250.
However, advocating in court in domestic relations is only one part of CASA's work to keep children safe. “The dependency and neglect cases are our `bread and butter,'” Ignatius said. “That's what we exist for. Those children get involved in the court system because of abuse and neglect.”
For instance, last year CASA volunteers advocated in court for 409 children who suffered abuse and neglect. “That program has not been affected whatsoever, nor has our Supervised Exchange and Parenting Program been affected,” Pedraza said. “It is what it is. Rules change. I think we had a positive impact in our work and someday if the rules change and we can get back in the game, we will. But until then we'll concentrate on our other programs.”