Group seeks to better connect courts and kids

A pilot project to help West Shore children under the care of courts is seeking support from local governments to get off the ground.

A pilot project to help West Shore children under the care of courts is seeking support from West Shore municipalities and agencies to get off the ground.

Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, or CASA for Children, is a program that puts trained volunteers with kids who have been removed from their homes and placed into temporary foster care.

The volunteer spends time with the child throughout his or her dealings with the courts and advises the court on how to best serve the needs of that child.

Georgia Peters, a retired crown youth prosecutor, chairs the organization, which spawned from a Leadership Victoria program. In her 40 years in the justice system, Peters said she witnessed shortcomings in its dealings with youth. Decisions are often made where to place a child with little knowledge of what that child really needs or wants.

“It’s heartbreaking and the remedy to it is doable, we just all have to pay attention,” Peters told Colwood council. “It’s about making connections with people and taking time to listen to these children, asking them what they want.”

Peters approached Colwood council at its Feb. 27 meeting to introduce the concept and make council aware that organizers will be looking for funding. She will be making similar presentations in meetings with Metchosin and Langford, and is reaching out to Sooke.

The goal for Canada’s first CASA pilot program is to work with 20 children from the West Shore area, half of which will be First Nations, and then assess the outcomes after two years.

Organizers picked the West Shore due to its relatively small courthouse, its accessibility to public transportation and other practical reasons. Eventually the goal is to have this service available for other areas of Victoria. Peters estimates there are more than 600 children in the Capital Regional District under care of the courts, with about 200 on the West Shore.

The organization is now seeking around $250,000 to start the pilot project. Initially organizers had hoped to have it rolling this fall, but after a private donation fell through Peters said that timeline is unrealistic.

The project is also contingent on the approval of the chief judge of the Provincial Court of B.C. Organizers have approval in principle from the administrative judge and family court judges locally, and Peters is working to arrange a meeting with the chief judge once more funding has been secured. Peters is also meeting with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to discuss progress and the program’s relationship with the agency.

“We see this as an opportunity to align with and to augment an existing system that needs help,” Peters said.

If the program gets off the ground it will be the first in Canada to be recognized by the larger CASA organization in the U.S.

Colwood Coun. Cynthia Day, who also chairs the Victoria family court and youth justice committee, expressed enthusiasm for the project and thanked Peters for bringing it to council’s attention.

There has been no formal application for funding and the deadline for applications has passed for this fiscal year, but future funding would be considered by council, Day said.

“I think that youth are more and more marginalized by the realities of family life,” Day said. “The court system was designed to apprehend the bad guy and it doesn’t have much compassion for the innocent bystanders, which are usually the children.”