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Court volunteers deal in harsh reality

Bret Hartman/Vail DailyLaura Laubhan is a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Eagle County. CASA is a group that observes children of substance-dependant and abusive parents. Laubhan advises attorneys, social workers and judges who should care for the children.
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EAGLE COUNTY – Laura Laubhan recommended a judge separate a 2-year-old girl from her drug-dependent mother.The recommendation by Laubhan, a volunteer children’s advocate, was difficult. “It’s hard, but I think you know going in to it that it’s in the child’s best interest not to become emotionally involved,” she said.Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Continental Divide is a group that investigates children of parents who are abusive and or addicted to drugs and alcohol. Volunteers, who are independent of the court they report to, try to determine the best home for the children.The national group was formed by a Seattle judge concerned by the lack of information he had when made decisions about children’s welfare. When Laubhan started the case, the child’s mother was jobless, living in a tent and using drugs and men to get through life, she said.After the court removed the girl from her mother, the child was adopted by a family that owned a few acres of land and horses.”I don’t know what would have happened if the child stayed in [her mother’s] home,” Laubhan said. “Although I saw her cry out for mom, I saw her life would be enriched by living with this family.”Because of privacy and age issues, the Vail Daily was unable to speak with children who have gone through the program in Eagle County.

Volunteers add personalized touchLaubhan is set to take on her third case. Signing on can mean an 18-month commitment or longer, although one of the organization’s goals is to push cases quickly through the system.In addition to her job at CenturyTel, Laubhan dedicates time each week to work on a child’s case, she said. She is one of 25 volunteers in Eagle, Clear Creek, Lake and Summit counties, said Tiffany Grosjean, the group’s executive director. The local chapter was founded in 1999 by Deborah Webster of Vail.Volunteers – assigned by the court when a case is filed – interview parents, siblings, foster families, psychologists, doctors and anyone else who might have input about a child’s life, Grosjean said.”The CASA volunteers add a personalized touch for the children and we’re sort of an extra eye to make sure they’re not falling through the cracks,” Grosjean said. “CASA is the only person who stays consistent through the child’s life until they find a permanent home.”Advocates have the ear of each person involved in the court case, but seek to remain objective, Grosjean said.

“[Volunteers] write a report for each court hearing for the judge,” Grosjean said. “Sometimes they align with what social workers and attorneys want for the child and sometimes they don’t.”Volunteers have an easier time forming relationships with children and family compared to attorneys and social workers, Grosjean said. The advocates can also immerse themselves in the details surrounding each child’s lives, she added.Fast lane to realityBarbie Christopher, one of the five original volunteers, said she got involved because she was interested in helping children and wanted to satisfy an unfulfilled urge to become a lawyer. Of the four cases she has worked, one lasted two years. She quickly learned the stark truth of serving as a volunteer, she said.”You think a child should be with parent x or y – you learn taking children away from their parents can be a devastating decision,” especially for adolescents who are more vulnerable,” Christohper said.”You come in very holier than thou and very idealistic,” she added, “and time teaches you that you have to make a decision between the best and the worst, not the better and best.”



Last year the advocates handled 25 cases involving 42 children, but were only involved in 39 percent of dependency and neglect cases in the organization’s area.”If we had more volunteers we could probably double the numbers,” Grosjean said.======================To learn moreFor more information about Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Continental Divide, call 513-9390 or visit http://casa.colorado.net. The group is seeking volunteers for its October training session. ======================Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or jkperry@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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