Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-347

Title:

AN ACT ESTABLISHING A PROGRAM FOR COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATES IN CERTAIN JUVENILE COURT MATTERS.

Vote Date:

3/28/2016

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/18/2016

File No.:

630

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

Patrice Comey brought this issue to the attention of the Judiciary Committee. The bill will establish a court-appointed special advocate program which will serve as a resource the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in determining and furthering the best interests of a person under 18 years of age who is the subject of a petition filed under 46b-129 or 46b-149.

SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE:

The substitute requires the advocates to complete a training program similar to the training for Guardians ad litem.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Department of Children and Families: Supports this bill. Currently, there are two CASA programs operating in Connecticut: Children in Placement and Child Advocates of Southwestern Connecticut. While there are currently only a small number of Court Appointed Special Advocates utilized in Connecticut, there is a conditional potential for expansion and this bill would permit that. These advocates provide an added voice on behalf of children on matters before Juvenile Court, providing important support at a very difficult time.

Office of Public Defender, Christine Perra Rapillo, Director of Delinquency Defense and Child Protection: This bill is unnecessary; CASAs already exist in many courts across the state. The court can choose to appoint a CASA volunteer instead of an attorney from the list of assigned counsel contracted with OCPD. There is simply no reason to add another advocate to a child welfare case as a second opinion on what is in the best interest of the child, the Office of Chief Public Defender is concerned that the provision requiring the CASA to have access to records and to parties to the action interferes with the right to counsel and to due process provided to parties in child welfare matters

Judicial Branch: During these extraordinarily difficult fiscal times, the branch cannot support program expansions that would impact the budget. The Judicial Branch currently funds two entities which provide the services outlined in the bill. These entities are Children in Placement and Child Advocates of Southwest Connecticut.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Kim Ambrose: Supports this bill. This bill is no cost to the state budget and the funds needed will be raised in the community. As a volunteer for Child Advocates of Southwestern Connecticut, I have seen the positive impact a volunteer advocate can have on the life of an abused or neglected child. Volunteer advocates are able to speak with the child, parents, foster parents, school officials, social workers, and others involved in the child's life to advocate for each child's needs.

Patrice Comey: Supports this bill. As a foster parent, CASA volunteer, and behavior health specialist, I have worked with and met several dedicated professionals working with foster children in the state. CASA volunteers are assigned to one child and stay involved for the long haul. Research shows that foster children with CASA volunteers do better in school, receive more services and spend less time in foster care. This bill will allow judges to appoint more CASA volunteers across the state of Connecticut.

Child Advocates of Southwest Connecticut, Volunteer Child Advocate Mari Flicker: This bill requires no state funding. Volunteer advocates are screened, extensively trained and closely supervised as they represent the best interests of children who have been abused or neglected.

Child Advocates of SW Connecticut, Elaine Harris, President of the Board of Directors: Raised Bill 347 offers greater opportunities for children in DCF protective care to have their own volunteer advocates. This bill offers the opportunity to provide both human and financial capital to support their work.

The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association, Tara Perry, Chief Executive Officer: This bill effectively would establish a court appointed special advocates (CASA) program in the Connecticut Judicial Department so that court appointed special advocates may serve as a resource for courts in certain juvenile matters and advocate in the best interest of children in those matters. The Bill also sets forth other important provisions concerning, for example, program affiliation with National CASA Association and its rigorous local program standards and quality assurance, duties, and responsibilities of a CASA volunteer.

Child Advocates of SW Connecticut, Nancy Rebold, Founding Board Member: Support Bill No. 347 so that more vulnerable children like the ones she advocates for can be served promptly by a volunteer advocate

Kappa Alpha Theta Alumnae Chapter of Fairfield County, Jennifer Reul, Chapter President: Kappa Alpha Theta has partnered with CASA nationally for over 25 years, and they are keenly aware of the incredible impact that a CASA volunteer can make in a child's life. To demonstrate support for this bill, they reached out to local Theta alumnae throughout Connecticut and Theta undergraduates studying in Connecticut and across the country, all of whom call Connecticut home. The response resulted in over 300 signatures on a Change.org petition in support of the CASA statute

Senate Majority Leader, Bob Duff: The bill provides assistance to some of our most vulnerable residents in Connecticut, abused and neglected children. It gives them more of a voice and assists the state's courts by providing court appointed volunteers to advocate for the children. The volunteers work one on one with the children, learning the specifics of each child's case and helping them to gain access to and develop the tools they need to succeed.

Child Advocates of SW Connecticut, Stacey G. Sobel, Executive Director: Bill No. 347 is of no cost to the state budget, funds needed will be fundraised in the community. CASAs are trained volunteers who help abused or neglected children find safe, permanent homes, and help them develop the tools they need to thrive and ultimately succeed in life. In Connecticut, only 5% of children in child protection are provided a volunteer advocate

United States Senator Richard Blumenthal: Senate Bill 347 will provide a legal framework for CASA volunteers in Connecticut-at no cost to the state. Under this legislation, the courts must appoint the special advocate who can review court documents and evidence with the appropriate releases and facilitate the delivery of services and appropriate judicial decisions in the best interests of the child

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Children in Placement, John H. Kelley, Executive Director: The sentence in Raised Bill No. 347 declares that nothing in this section shall permit a court appointed special advocate to supplant or interfere with any counsel or guardian ad litem appointed to represent the best interests of a child in such proceedings. Legislation came into effect allowing Children in Placement to establish a volunteer guardian ad litem program in October 1995. This allows the Children in Placement Court Appointed Special Advocate Guardian ad Litem to present the best interest recommendation of the child in the superior court for juvenile matters

Reported by: Nickolas Raphael and Chiara Mancini

Date: 04/11/2016