Little Children Also Victims of Meth
By Ellen M. Bush, CASA of Montana Executive Director
With the new wave of meth ads planned for TV and radio, it's vital that we remember the children who are the victims of meth abuse - the ones who are removed from their home when law enforcement finds a meth lab and has to haul their parents away to jail.
National statistics tell us that about 70 percent of the methamphetamine busts involve children - and sadly, that's true in Montana as well. Those children are taken into custody by law enforcement and social workers and often end up in foster care in the state child protective system. If their parents are meth users they require more time to recover, if they do actually succeed in getting off the drug, and the children often require more services and attention. Meth is so addictive that it's hard to break the habit and therefore, the children of meth users are less likely to return to their homes.
These children need more time and attention than social workers can commit to with their heavy caseloads. They need caring foster homes. They need a voice in the court to advocate for them - Court Appointed Special Advocates. The district court judge appoints that advocate who serves as a neutral party to an independent investigation, talking with the child, the parents, the adults who know the child. Judges say that the CASA report is one of the main determining factors in where the child is placed and what services are received. Having an advocate to speak on their behalf and impact the outcome of their case contributes to the child's health and well being, and quite possibly, their survival now and in the future.
In Montana, there are 350 volunteers advocating for 1,000 children. That's not good enough. We're only providing CASA volunteers for about half of the children in need. The needs are greatest in Missoula, Great Falls, Billings and in our rural areas. In the Helena area, we need volunteers for children in Jefferson County.
The volunteers receive 30 hours of training in how to investigate a child's situation, the laws that govern child protective services, child development and understanding children from different ethnic backgrounds. Almost 30 percent of the caseload in Montana is Native American, although the Native American population is less than 10 percent. We need more Native American volunteers and more leaders willing to work with CASA on reservations.
The 16 nonprofit CASA programs in Montana operate independently, each with their own local board, but work together with CASA of Montana, our state network umbrella. CASA of Montana separated from the state of Montana in January and is also operating as a nonprofit. That office provides statewide education, training, publicity and helps to raise funds for programs and statewide services.
The local programs serve 1,000 children now at a cost of about $660,000 annually, with about 20 percent coming from state funding. The 350 volunteers provide more than 16,000 hours of service every year - saving the state thousands of dollars. But they require training, mentoring and supervision to do their job right. The cost of running a local office requires support from local communities, United Way, grant funders and other businesses.
We appreciate those businesses that have partnered with us in growing the CASA of Montana state program, especially Bresnan Communications, KXHL Television, Montana State Fund, Neighborhood Office, Town Pump and Valley Bank. We are seeking more statewide business partners and donations as we work to serve more children and keep the doors of each local program open. Please help us to serve Montana children who are so desperately in need of your support.
Contact CASA of Montana at 1-866-863-2272 or see our website at www.casagal.org. Our address is 131 Reeder's Alley, P.O. Box 1046, Helena, MT 59601.