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Bill seeks to change legislation for foster children receiving a special advocate from “shall” to “may”

CASA
CASA(Jeffrey Lindblom)
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 5:29 PM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - A South Dakota House Bill that has to do with appointing special advocates who represent the best interests of a child who has been neglected or abused is looking to change one word.

Currently, the law reads the court “shall” appoint a representative.

However, the bill aims to make it read the court “may” appoint a representative.

This is something that Kehala Two Bulls, Executive Director of the Seventh Circuit Court Appointed Special Advocate program, calls a serious issue.

She says that proceedings tend to take a year to determine if the child will go back with their family or if parental rights will be terminated, and having a volunteer special advocate for the child who’s going through a difficult time helps to provide the judge with unique insight into that child’s circumstances.

”If CASA didn’t exist,” explains Two Bulls, “all of the same court proceeding would still happen. Children would still be in foster care, but children would get less individual attention. And, judges would get less information about what’s going on for children while they’re in foster care.”

Two Bulls worries the proposed change wouldn’t benefit the wellbeing of children. As she believes programs like CASA help instill resilience into a child, and stops them from passing along trauma to children of their own in the future.

She says as things already stand, their waiting list for children to receive advocates is already more than 300.

”We already don’t have the resources that we need for children. To take away shall,” says Two Bulls, “and put in may, leaves a lot of flexibility. I think it’s in the best interest of the community to invest in the health of all children.”

Two Bulls says having volunteer advocates guarantees that the child has someone as a resource to them that’s invested in their future, and that in order to get the 347 kids on the waiting list an advocate, they’d need more than 250 additional volunteers.

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