Guest Speakers at CHD CASA Training Include Springfield Juvenile Court Judge

Two special guests from the Springfield Juvenile Court, Judge Carol Shaw (Circuit Justice) and Zoé Dos Santos (Massachusetts specialty court program coordinator) shared their expertise and motivations at a recent pre-service training session for volunteers of CHD’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Hampden County.

Through one-on-one advocacy, CASAs with Springfield and Holyoke Juvenile Courts to improve stability, opportunities, and permanency outcomes for children with active Care and Protection cases.

Judge Shaw discussed her approach to care and protection cases, emphasizing the importance of centering children. She described utilizing a Danger-Risk-Safety Assessment Model, in which dangers require immediate intervention and risks are manageable with effective planning and often allow families to remain together as they gain support managing these risks. Judge Shaw often uses CASA court reports as one resource to help distinguish dangers from risks.

The CASAs in training also learned about the soon-to-be-launched Family Treatment Court (FTC), an opt-in system that runs parallel to a typical care and protection case. Dos Santos, as program coordinator, reviews all petitions to enter the program and offers FTC services to families in which substance use is a central factor in the case. Each party’s lawyer must agree to the parent(s) participating, and the participant may then be screened in by the program’s clinician.

The FTC involves meetings at the court in a group with other FTC participants every two weeks. Participants are supported through a series of program stages structured around care and protection timelines. Importantly, discussions in FTC cannot be used as evidence in the care and protection case, allowing participants to more easily benefit from the FTC community.

Dos Santos’s goals for the FTC include bridging the perceived divide between families and DCF in order to facilitate more comprehensive, long-lasting support for families working with the juvenile court system. Similar to CASA’s whole-child advocacy, Dos Santos described FTC’s purpose as “seeing the family as a whole, seeing what they need.”