Figart ‘goes above and beyond’ for kids
Altoona area man advocates to court for local children
It’s usually either a parent, a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend, or a relative that perpetrates abuse against children, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
Children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned are served by dependency courts and typically placed in foster care or group homes. But the ultimate goal is to get those children reunited with family members, according to Cambria County President Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III.
To help judges make the best decision they can for children, 24 counties, including Cambria, enlist trained volunteers who are an independent extra set of eyes and ears of the court, gathering information from the child, his or her biological parents, foster parents, teachers and counselors.
Altoona area HVAC tradesman Terry Figart is such a volunteer. For three years, he has been a member of the Court Appointed Special Advocate Association in Cambria County.
Local CASA programs are organized for a specific juvenile court jurisdiction. With no CASA volunteer program in Blair County, Figart travels to help children in Cambria.
And as a CASA volunteer, Figart doesn’t get reimbursed for travel.
“That shows the level of commitment he has to serving kids,” Krumenacker said.
CASA volunteers are paired with a child on a case-by-case basis when a child is adjudicated dependent and in custody of the court.
They remain on the case until the court decides to reunite the child with a family member.
Figart is now on his third case. In the past, he has been assigned to children who were physically or mentally abused, in some cases by a paramour of the child’s parent.
“We are assigned by a judge’s order, and as the child’s CASA advocate, anyone involved with the child and the family is required to contact us,” he said.
Cambria CASA program director Liz McGregor said CASA volunteers are there solely for the children.
“We face a very big drug problem in our area,” she said. “The children are in the court system through no fault of their own. CASA volunteers are there solely for the kids to make sure their wishes are heard.”
Figart is required to make visits twice a month, but he has made more.
“He’s one of my volunteers who goes above and beyond,” McGregor said. “He recruited his wife. They are working a case together as husband and wife.”
Figart has been to the foster home and the biological parents’ home. He’s done school visits and gone with Children and Youth Services to observe supervised visitations with parents.
Figart collects information and submits a report to inform Krumenacker’s decision on re-unifying the child with family.
Those reports are “huge,” Krumenacker said, because the CASA worker is the “eyes and ears of the court.”
In many instances, they are the person that parents, grandparents and children — if they are teenagers — trust to make the right decision and provide the proper influence because they are impartial.
“They are the individuals who look at both sides, the CYS and the parents and try to take a rather neutral position and provide a fair analysis,” Krumenacker said. “Volunteers are very effective even more than case workers in their ability to relate to the family. They are not ‘the government.'”
As a child’s CASA advocate, anyone involved with the child and the family is required to contact Figart.
In one of Figart’s cases, hospital staff contacted him because the child’s mother had taken her daughter to be treated for bruises. Nurses offered to show Figart photos but he said he was so angry that he could not view them. He knew it was the boyfriend of the child’s mother.
Charges were never filed against the paramour because the child wouldn’t open up in a forensic interview, but the mother cut ties with the man and regained her daughter.
“If I dropped out of the program today, I’d leave it happy based on the results of my first case,” he said. “A child was reunited with her mother, and they are doing fantastic.”
CASA started in Cambria County in 1997. While it relies on volunteers for cases, there are costs to counties for staff involving administration, training and coordination of reports.
However, Somerset County saw how the program has helped Cambria and contributed to the administrative cost so that the CASA workers could be shared between counties.
“The thing about Terry is he has really been trying to expand CASA into Blair County,” Krumenacker said.
Figart referenced neglect occurring for a variety of reasons, including the opioid epidemic.
“There is a need for CASA in Blair,” he said.
Blair County President Judge Elizabeth Doyle said she met with Figart and Krumenacker two years ago.
“It sounds like a great program,” she said.
She said 2018 was a busy year for the courts with many newly elected judges and positions.
“It was not an easy year for establishing a new program,” Doyle said. “But if people wanted that in Blair County, I would be open to it.”
Figart said there are about five CASA volunteers in Cambria County who are from Blair County.
Blair County commissioner Bruce Erb agrees with Doyle.
“I think Blair County should investigate and see if it could be beneficial to us,” he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.
The Figart file
Family: Wife, Brenda Boston Figart; son, Kyler James Figart, 28; legal guardians of Alijah Snyder, 10.
Volunteer experience: Nine years in Big Brothers-Big Sisters program, United Way, Sheetz Family Christmas, Wally Warmth. Serves on two Altoona Area School District committees — Positive Climate and Culture Committee and Special Needs Parent Advisory Committee.
Education: Altoona Area High School, Class of 1985; Mill Creek Vo-Tech for HVACR and ongoing training for HVACR.