CASA works to keep in contact with kids during outbreak

CASA of the 7th Judicial District's Montrose offices. Staffers and volunteers are working to keep their young clients connected in the time of COVID-19.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, CASA of the 7th Judicial District has not stopped helping children in the region, said CASA Executive Director Carlton Mason.

CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, works with kids who are the subject of civil dependency and neglect cases in court, through advocates (also called CASAs) who guide the children every step of the way and represent their interests. CASA of the 7th Judicial District serves Montrose, Delta, Ouray, San Miguel, Gunnison and Hinsdale counties.

“These issues and challenges that these children face haven’t gone away; they’re still there,” Mason said. “They still have been monitored ... and sometimes they’ve been more monitored than before.”

Supervised visitations between non-custodial parents and kids are protected under the state’s guidelines for essential businesses during Colorado’s stay-home order, issued in response to the pandemic. However, CASA had to rethink how to provide services that meet the social distancing recommendation, Mason said.

Mason said, due to this, it made the advocacy group be “creative” in how its workers interact with their young clients.

Initially, a week’s worth of visitation had to be canceled so that the advocacy group could get up and running on Zoom, a company that provides remote video conferencing, said CASA chief financial officer Karin Slater. By going this route, CASA is in the process of changing the number of times parents and kids can interact in a given week.

“It’s an opportunity,” Slater said. “So instead of these parents seeing their child once a week, hopefully, they can see them three times a week.”

CASA has made other strides to move toward the online realm.

Supervisors post online potential books to read, or math problems to solve, as well as a virtual scavenger hunt, as activities for both parents and kids can do together.

“We’ve been given an opportunity here to offset the loss of physical contact with some creative and more frequent connections,” Mason said.

Additionally, workers use Facebook Messenger, along with the normal phone call and text message route, to help them stay in contact with the children, said CASA youth services program manager Lauren Cook.

The advocacy group is using this time by giving back to the community with the help of a few kids.

CASA is currently helping Region 10 with food delivery to senior citizens by way of having the children and volunteers transporting meals to an elderly person’s home. They do this service twice a week, providing more than 250 meals in a given seven-day period, Mason said. The youths take appropriate precautions, in light of the pandemic.

The advocacy group is making sure its children are fed as well. Mason said CASA is working with Heidi’s Deli to provide both young adults and kids meals during this time.

“This gives (meals to) young adults, or kids, who don’t have a strong family structure or don’t have one at all,” Mason said.

Although CASA kids have been able to get outside and help the community, they still find it a difficult time staying at home, which has prompted staff to keep in contact with them, Cook said.

“(We’re) checking in to say, ‘Somebody still cares about you. Somebody wants to know you’re OK,” Cook said. “It’s gone really well.”

She added the kids have also looked out for each other, notifying the advocacy group of who might be feeling isolated. Cook said this stems from wanting human connection and to see their friends again.

“They’re trying their best to stay isolated,” Cook said. “We’re trying to provide those opportunities like if they’re a part of those deliveries they can see their friends. … We do some type of activity so that they don’t feel alone.”

Isolation is what many are feeling during the COVID-19 outbreak, Mason said. This feeling needs to be recognized by those who perhaps want to reach out to someone they haven’t seen in awhile, he added.

“We need to be aware that it exists within the community,” Mason said. “We’ve got to be thinking about how can I connect with the people I know? … Maybe we could create something that can be brought to their doorstep that lets them know the community is thinking about you and doesn’t want you to be isolated.”

Mason’s hopeful about the future, saying the coronavirus pandemic will end eventually, and it could change how Montrose residents interact as a whole.

“Maybe, through this, we could figure out how to be a better community in an entirely different environment,” Mason said.

Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.

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