Advocates program for foster children may come to Lyon County

YERINGTON - Foster children will no longer appear in court alone if Peggy Pauly succeeds in setting up a Court Appointed Special Advocates program in Lyon County.

Pauly reckons that more than half of Lyon County's foster children have nobody speaking on their behalf when they appear before a judge.

"Nationwide, children with advocates stay in foster care 13 to 23 months less than those not represented," said Pauly, herself a foster parent the past four years for six children.

She wants Lyon County to have a CASA program to join Carson City, Clark, Washoe and Douglas counties, the only Nevada counties with court appointed advocates for foster children.

Pauly will have an informational meeting about bringing CASA to Lyon County at 10 a.m. Nov. 4 at the Yerington Library. Mary Herzik, executive director of Washoe County CASA, will provide details on how to form a CASA.

Expected at the meeting are District Court Judges Archie Blake and Michael Huff, District Attorney Robert Estes, juvenile probation officers and people from the state Division of Child and Family Services office in Carson City, Pauly said.

"These are the people you need to have on your side," Pauly said.

She encourages anybody willing to become a CASA volunteer to attend the meeting. A CASA volunteer serves as a foster child's advocate in court.

CASA fills the void if a child doesn't have a court-appointed attorney or other attorney.

"Our goal is to make sure that every child has an advocate speaking for their best interest," Pauly said. "What I've seen personally with kids in my care is the judge does not get all the information about the child's case. CASA volunteers will interview everybody involved - the birth parents, foster parents, case workers and school teachers.

"The CASA person will have real, first-hand information and have input on what is in the child's best interest. As a foster mother, I have seen that a case worker generally did not have a chance to talk to the child or teachers."

Pauly said a CASA program helps speed up the process of getting children out of foster care and either adopted or returned to their parents.

A CASA volunteer becomes an officer of the court but Pauly said no special experience is required and that advocates generally have full-time jobs elsewhere. A foster child's advocate generally makes two court appearances a year.

Pauly regards herself as acting director of a Lyon County CASA program that exists strictly as an idea. If the Nov. 4 meeting proves successful, she said the next step would be establishing a budget and determining how to fund it.

Funding could come from Lyon County or by forming a non-profit organization, she said.


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