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Benefits of CIP Funding to South Dakota CASA Programs

Amy BendAmy J. Benda, Executive Director, Sioux Falls Area CASA Program

Summary: The author outlines the many ways that South Dakota CASA programs and volunteers have benefitted from CIP grants.



In 1995, the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, awarded the first Court Improvement Program (CIP) grant. The South Dakota Unified Judicial System, State Court Administrator’s Office, received these funds and established the first Court Improvement Grant Committee to assess and improve handling of court proceedings related to child abuse and neglect in South Dakota.

In 2006, the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, announced funding for two additional Court Improvement Program grants: (1) training and (2) data collection and analysis.

In 2007, the South Dakota Unified Judicial System, State Court Administrator’s Office, applied for and was awarded grant funds for all three Court Improvement Program grants.

The basic Court Improvement Programs grant continues to support CASA programs, make the necessary revisions to the South Dakota Guidelines for Child Abuse and Neglect Cases, support the CIP contract, and support the development of a new CIP committee. CASA programs benefit greatly from the CIP partnership and the financial support it provides to programs that meet the established criteria. Many programs utilize this grant for salary support. This type of support allows us to stress less about financial support and focus more on providing services.

The training grant provides training opportunities to judges, attorneys, legal personnel and child welfare agency staff. These funds ensure that appropriate training relevant to child welfare issues is offered to our staff and volunteers. Our program was able to give volunteers the opportunity to attend two major trainings during 2010, which we normally would not have been able to do. Having access to continuing education enables them to continue to learn and grow in their role.

The data collection and analysis grant funds the reformatting of the state’s Juvenile Tracking System (JTS). The revised JTS will track permanency, safety and well-being of children in the child welfare system. Many of the CASA programs in the state of South Dakota are utilizing the CIP grant to pay the annual fees and other expenses incurred in using the Efforts to Outcomes database that was recently made available through National CASA.

The current Court Improvement Program Committee members are appointed to the committee by the chief justice. The committee includes representation by groups including judges, court administrators, state’s attorneys, abuse and neglect–trained attorney, Department of Social Services staff, victims’ witness specialists, CASA volunteers, foster care and adoptive parents, law enforcement, tribal/ICWA and legislators. We are an active committee that is very committed to assess and improve how court proceedings related to child abuse and neglected are handled in South Dakota.

Over the years South Dakota’s Court Improvement Program Committee has accomplished many projects. The most significant recent project is a training video for attorneys representing children in abuse and neglected cases, developed after the need for additional training was recognized and then mandated.

Additional reference guides have been or are in the process of being created for other professionals, such as law enforcement, judicial and state’s attorneys. The committee has worked closely with the planning of qualified expert witness trainings for ICWA and the tribes.

The committee is a proactive, forward-thinking group of professionals who are always looking for gaps in the system and ways to improve the court proceedings for abused and neglected children, while always keeping the children the central focus of our efforts.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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