Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

CASA advocates for children across Northern Hills

CASA of the Northern Hills building in downtown Spearfish. CASA provides courtroom advocates for children.
Rylan Bruns
CASA of the Northern Hills building in downtown Spearfish. CASA provides courtroom advocates for children.

Court Appointed Special Advocates, better known as CASA, is a nationwide nonprofit organization that provides children with a
volunteer to be their voice in the courtroom. Year-round, CASA strives to protect and promote children through trained volunteers who advocate for them. CASA of the Northern Hills, located in Spearfish, S.D., has provided abused and neglected children in the area with a CASA volunteer since 1986.

According to Amy Cermak, the executive director of Northern Hills CASA, the goal of CASA is to be a voice for children who have
been abused or neglected. When a Circuit Judge files an abuse or neglect case for a child, a CASA volunteer is assigned to advocate
for them.

“Our mission of CASA is to promote and protect the best interests of abused and neglected children through the advocacy efforts
of trained volunteers,” Cermak said. “Those trained volunteers are just ordinary citizens; they are community members. They are ordinary citizens who really do extraordinary things for children.”

CASA’s vision as an organization both locally and nationwide is to provide children with a volunteer that will advocate for them
in a courtroom. Cermak, who has been with CASA for eight years, recently became the executive director for the Northern Hills CASA. In March 2023, after the former director retired, Cermak transitioned into the role.

“I started back in 2016 as a child advocacy specialist,” Cermak said. “My role was to recruit, train, support volunteers, go to court hearings, help them through the process of becoming a volunteer and what it takes.”

One of the main purposes of the CASA office in Spearfish is to recruit and support volunteers. The office covers only the Northern
Hills area while Rapid City CASA covers different counties. Spearfish’s CASA office is the headquarters for the entirety of the Fourth
Judicial Circuit Court.

“Northern Hills CASA covers eight counties within the Fourth Judicial Circuit,” Cermak said. The office in Spearfish is there to help support volunteers across the Northern Hills and to assist them in any way. “The role of our office here is to recruit volunteers, train them, and to support them through the process,” Cermak said. “We are a nonprofit organization, so we rely on funding from different sources.”

In order to continue to advocate for abused children, CASA relies on donations, sponsorships, federal grants, city and county grants
and fundraisers. Although the area that Northern Hills CASA covers consists of smaller counties, there are still children who have been neglected or abused and need a CASA volunteer.

“Last year in 2022 we served 75 children during the year through 33 volunteers,” Cermak said. “This year we are already up to
77 children, so we have surpassed last year, but that’s not a goal to have more kids in care.”

With an increase in children in need of a CASA advocate, there is an increasing need for volunteers able to take on cases. Currently,
there are 15 children on a waitlist for a CASA in the area. CASA is close to getting some of those appointed to a volunteer advocate.

“Our vision is to provide a CASA volunteer for every child that comes into our system, that comes into care,” Cermak said. A few of the requirements to become a CASA include being over the age of 21, being willing to complete background checks and interviews, complete training and be willing to commit until your first case is closed. There are trainings twice a year for new volunteers.

“The training includes several different topics such as child abuse, substance abuse and mental health,” Cermak said. In addition, part of the training teaches volunteers the laws, things to look for, development milestones and how to testify in court. After volunteers in training have completed the in-class portion, they do a mock hearing.

“Once they are done with their in-class training, we have a mock hearing in which they wrote a report for and they practice testimony,” Cermak said. “Then they are actually sworn in by one of the Circuit Court Judges.”

CASA volunteers want the best for children and something unique is that CASA volunteers stay with the children all the way through. For many children their CASA advocate is the one constant adult in their lives.

“Social Workers change all the time, placements change, which means they have new schools, new teachers, therapists change,
but their CASA typically remains the same,” Cermak said.

Some volunteers will stay in contact with their CASA years after they are out of the system because they have developed a bond.

“I could tell you a success story of every CASA volunteer,” Cermak said. “They put their heart and soul into working with these kids.”

In addition to providing a voice for children, every year CASA also supplies a Christmas gift program for the children in care.

“We do a huge CASA Christmas gift project for all the kiddos currently in care,” Cermak said. “What is going on right now is that each child gets to pick four wish list items that they want. We have businesses in the Northern Hills that display Christmas trees with all of the CASA children’s wish lists.”

Several businesses across the Northern Hills will have Christmas trees with the wish lists of the children. In addition, CASA provides pajamas, clothing, school supplies, hygiene products and books. This upcoming Christmas season, CASA will be collecting the gifts and having a “wrap day.” Due to the number of children this year, there will likely be hundreds of presents to wrap. Northern Hills CASA will be wrapping gifts on December 15, 2023, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Joy Center on the campus of Black Hills State University. Anyone is welcome to come and help wrap gifts that day.

Last year, the Northern Hills CASA volunteers put in 4000 hours of casework and traveled over 3500 miles advocating for children. Due to the lack of foster homes in the area many children are sent across the state. The dedication to advocate for children goes beyond only the local area.

“People are in it for the long haul,” Cermak said. “They want kids to be safe and have a permanent home where they can thrive.”

More information and full requirements to become a volunteer are available on their website at