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Advocates recognized for dedication to children

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POLSON — When a child suffers from abuse or neglect, Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteers are called to assist during the tumultuous time. The number of child abuse and neglect cases in Lake County has nearly doubled two years in a row, creating an even greater need for the CASA volunteers.

In Polson last week, 20 CASA volunteers were honored by District Court Judges James Manley and Deborah Kim Christopher for their service to families.

CASA volunteers currently serve 70 children within Lake and Sanders County and are part of a national and statewide association. The organization works with abused children, the children’s families, the Montana Department of Child and Family Services and attorneys to find beneficial solutions for abuse cases. According to CASA Director Ann Marie McNeel, a little more than half of the current abuse and neglect cases are due to family methamphetamine use. 

“In all cases, children have been separated from family for safety reasons. This is a real community problem,” McNeel said. 

Throughout the length of the case, volunteers regularly visit with the child, attend meetings and court hearings and work as a guardian. Each volunteer works about 10 hours a month per case and assists the child from the beginning to the end. Many of the children are in foster or therapeutic care during this time. 

 “We get to be with the kids through the whole process and we give recommendations (to the judge),” Viktra Bumgarner, a newer CASA volunteer said. 

Carol and Dick Banghart have been working with the CASA program for about 15 years, even before there was an office in the area. Carol became interested because she had a cousin that had done it elsewhere and she wanted to be a part of something important after retiring. 

“It’s the commitment. It’s very rewarding with the children and the people we work with,” Carol Banghart said. 

Another newer volunteer, Laura Kelley, currently has three cases. She became interested in volunteering after her own children left home. She heard about CASA through the organization’s annual golf tournament fundraiser that happens in April.

To find out more information about becoming an advocate or to donate, call CASA of Lake and Sanders County at 406-883-0158. 

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