Friday, May 24, 2024

CASA offers supervised visits through Youth Connections

by Aaron Fulwiler, CASA/Youth Connection
| May 9, 2024 12:00 AM

The deaths in April of two Kansas women during a custody exchange have underscored the need for enhanced safety measures when children spend time between separated parents whose emotions are running high.

Local CASA director Ann Marie McNeel notes that the local Court Appointed Special Advocate program in Lake and Sanders Counties has expanded its services to include supervised visits in a secure facility through its Youth Connection program. She explains that public spaces typically lack the specialized security measures necessary to minimize the risks inherent in high-conflict custody situations.

Youth Connection has a facility in Polson and is currently opening another in Thompson Falls.

While CASA of Lake & Sanders Counties continues to train and support volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children who have been removed from their homes, Youth Connection addresses the need to prevent child abuse by offering supervised visits between a child and parent when needed and community-based parenting classes. McNeel works closely with 16 volunteers from the local community who get to know the children they serve, along with their families, and provide advocacy as both CASA advocates and Youth Connection visit monitors. She remarks that it's a unique volunteer experience.

At a recent volunteer recognition luncheon, board vice-chair David Rensvold recognized these volunteers “who put their hearts and soul into children who are in crisis situations.” Rensvold is the longest serving board member for CASA of Lake & Sanders Counties.

Montana CASA Director April Barnes, who also spoke at the luncheon, recognized local volunteers as the backbone of the 15 local CASA programs in Montana, and congratulated them for “working on the front lines and making a difference.” She said funding approved by the 2023 Montana Legislature has helped establish new CASA programs and expand existing CASA services to reach more children. Youth Connection is a recipient of this funding.

According to McNeel, CASA has worked in concert with the 20th Judicial District Court judges for 20 years to serve kids in Lake and Sanders counties. For more information about CASA/Youth Connection call 406-883-0158 visit