As more children are removed from their homes for reasons related to drug use and addiction, Polk County may soon have help launching a child-advocate program.
The CASA program, short for Court Appointed Special Advocate, coordinates volunteers who can be matched with children believed to have experienced abuse or neglect.
Polk County hopes to take advantage of a grant through the State of Wisconsin that would help it found a CASA program.
“We have an opportunity to take part in this grant that would provide funding for a few years,” explained Polk County Corporation Counsel Malia Malone.
If awarded, the county would provide office space and internet access for the program coordinator.
“When we have children removed from their home or a Child in Need of Protection Services Petition filed for in home, these are advocates kind of like you would think of Big Brother, Big Sister or Kinship,” Malone said. “Someone from the community who is a volunteer, with lots of support, decides to become a part of this child’s life for the duration of that court order.”
According to Malone, Polk County has a growing need for help, as the rate of new child-protection cases outpaces that of larger counties including St. Croix, Eau Claire and Chippewa. Volunteers could help fill in the gaps for overwhelmed social workers.
“Where social workers have 20 to 30 cases at a time, with most CASA volunteers it’s more of a one-to-one or two-to-one ratio,” Malone said. “They can go to court. They provide an extra set of eyes in the home. It’s in addition to the guardian ad litem as far as an advocate for the best interest of the children.”
The role is different from that of a guardian ad litem, a lawyer who acts in the child’s best interest.
“The guardian ad litem isn’t supposed to go into court and say, ‘Hey Judge, let me tell you what I saw when I was in the home,’” Malone explained. “The guardian ad litem would be able to call on this CASA representative and say, ‘Tell the court as a witness what you saw in the home.’”
The heart of the CASA model is ensuring that children are safe and have a permanent home.
“This is an opportunity to provide extra supports for the family,” Malone said, “specifically for the best interest of the children, to give the courts a better understanding of what the children are experiencing. It’s one more person who can go in the court and speak for the child on behalf of the best interest of the children.”
The county has submitted information to the State of Wisconsin, in support of the state’s CASA grant application. Malone said she would update the board on the grant status at its June meeting.
“I hope we start reaping benefits if the state is able to procure that grant,” she said. “I think it will be a good thing for the county and a good thing for our kids.”
“This is a huge step in the right direction,” agreed Supervisor John Bonneprise.
• Discussion regarding the Stower and Gandy trails continues. County Administrator Nick Osborne confirmed with the Federal Highway Association that if the county were to open the trail to motors it would be required to repay $600,000 in American Recovery Act grant funds.
• The county is testing audiovisual equipment to record board and committee meetings.
• Rose Kromrey was appointed to the Aging Advisory Committee for the remainder of a three-year term ending December 2021.
• The Polk County Board informally agreed that it would prefer to see findings of an engineering study of the Clam Falls Dam before agreeing to take ownership.
• Amendments to the county’s subdivision ordinance were approved.
• The board adopted a plan for the county staff division structure.
• In closed session the board discussed a legal opinion concerning a an offer to settle an anticipated claim against the county from Public Administration Associates. After coming back into open session, the board voted unanimously to reject the offer.