Cindy Basnett Daily Inter Lake Monday Profile - 7/31/23
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Nonprofit director leads way in advocating for children
By HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake
Cindy Basnett recalls the moment that motivated her to get involved with helping children in need.
She was observing what appeared to be two adults engaged in a drug deal with two children in the vicinity who she says were clearly not being looked after.
“You can observe them from a distance, and that’s heartbreaking,” she said. “But that one child, the youngest of the children, turned around and saw me back and when they look you in the eye, and they know that you have seen their situation. There’s something that tugs in your heart that you just can’t walk away. But in that situation, I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea how to help this child.”
That juncture in her life led her to first volunteer with and now lead CASA for Kids of Flathead County as the nonprofit’s executive director.
She looked into becoming a foster parent, but that option wasn’t feasible for her while raising young children of her own. Then she heard about CASA on a TV show and saw a banner across the road with the program. Finally, a friend told her about the national program, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates.
“I checked into the national website and just was crying by the time I had listened to probably three or four of the stories of how youth were impacted by having a CASA volunteer, and I definitely wanted to check into the program after that,” she said.
Volunteers, known as CASAs, advocate for children in dependent neglect cases.
“So anytime there are allegations of abuse or neglect of a child and they find themselves in the foster care system and the court system, the court asks us to provide a trained volunteer to get to know the child to do an independent investigation, and then advocate for what we believe to be their best interest,” she said.
The program currently includes over 100 volunteers who go through about 50 hours of specialized training and then are supported by CASA staff throughout the process of advocating for a child. Last year volunteers worked with 235 children and there are about 140 who are being served now.
Basnett began working as a volunteer advocate in 2007 and was invited to join the staff in 2009. She had previously worked as an assistant to a patent attorney before being a stay-at-home mom. Then as her youngest child was entering kindergarten she wanted to rejoin the workforce.
She called the CASA director at the time saying she planned to finish the case she had been assigned and then wouldn’t be accepting anymore, and in turn was offered an administrative position with the program.
She moved to volunteer coordinator and then advocacy program director, before serving as interim and now executive director. Being able to support the volunteers and watch them “give their time and their hearts,” is a rewarding experience, she says.
“I wanted to be part of the solution and I wanted to get training on becoming part of that solution and I did,” she said. “It has been something that I couldn’t walk away from.”
ADVOCATES SERVE in a unique role in that they are volunteers, while judges, attorneys, or social workers involved in cases are all paid, also their sole focus is the children, while others involved are focused on the adults in the situation. Advocates are also looking for ways to fill the gaps in services, which can be finding summer camp spots for children or for those who have aged out of the foster care system it might be helping them find furnishings for an apartment.
“And then once you develop a relationship with a child and their family members and you see the difference that it can make,” she said. “I’ve never seen a family that seemed worse off after interventions than they were when they came into the system. So being able to be part of that system. That helps our kids in our community that are in crisis that are the most vulnerable of our population is really important to me.”
Basnett praises the staff at CASA for their critical role in running the program but says it comes down to the volunteers.
“They’re really the core of our program during this because they care and they want to make a difference just like I wanted to make a difference,” she said.
Basnett began working in the director position this spring and says that though she wasn’t seeking to move from her previous spot, she looks forward to using her experience to lead the nonprofit alongside the board of directors.
“I’m excited just about continuing on this journey and leading not only the advocates but now engaging the community and joining us because we need to have the community support in order to continue to do this work,” she said.
Daily Inter Lake - 6/7/23
On Monday, May 22, 2023, eight community members were sworn in as CASA/GAL Volunteers. Each will work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate/ Guardian ad Litem for abused and neglected children in the Flathead County foster care system. District Court Judge Danni Coffman presided over the ceremony and administered the oath. Each new advocate received a certificate for the 50 hours of training they completed. The training covers topics such as the CASA/GAL role, child development, substance abuse, domestic violence, assessing family strengths, the court process, laws relating to abuse/neglect, cultural diversity, interviewing, and how to write reports to the court.
In 2022, 235 children with 118 advocates in Flathead County were served by CASA for Kids. CASA’s goal is to have an advocate for every abused/neglected child who enters the foster care system. Applications are being accepted for the next training cycle, which starts in September 2023. Get more information at www.flatheadcasa.org or by calling 406.755.7208. Change a child’s story. Change a child’s life.