Canfield declares Nov. Family Court Awareness Month

CANFIELD — Mayor Richard Duffett presented to Canfield resident Nancy Fingerhood a special proclamation declaring November as Family Court Awareness Month.

Fingerhood is a member of the group One Mom’s Battle. She maintains there is “a nationwide crisis in our family court system.”

But a Mahoning County court official says a system is in place here to ensure every child involved with the courts receives permanency in a safe, stable and loving home.

The One Mom’s Battle awareness campaign was started by Tina Swithin from San Luis Obispo, Calif., after her own problems with the family court system. Fingerhood said she, too, went through litigation in Colorado with her child’s father, and volunteered with a group there.

“We helped get legislation in Colorado to mandate domestic violence, child sexual abuse and child-abuse training for custody evaluators into law this year,” she said.

Fingerhood now lives in Canfield and continues as a member of One Mom’s Battle. “Our goal is to seek legislation to put the safety of the child first,” Fingerhood said.

In Mahoning County, children who enter the domestic relations court or the juvenile court have an advocate who works as a voice for the child. It is called the CASA / GAL program — court appointed special advocate, and guardian ad litem.

“Mahoning County CASAs only work in juvenile court,” said Cathy Kristan, executive director of the CASA / GAL program. “However, there are guardian ad litems, which speak up for the best interest of the child in domestic court. GALs are paid attorneys.”

In Mahoning County, the success rate from CASA / Gal is pretty high, Kristan said.

“The majority of our CASA cases do have happy endings,” she said. “However, some are not so happy due to parents not able to care for their children, but the children are placed in homes that are in the best interest of that child. Mahoning County CASA has a success rate of the courts accepting our recommendations at a rate of 95 percent of the time.”

She said a CASA will stay with an assigned child for as long as it takes, occasionally even years. They are the voice of that child and the one thing in the child’s life that is a constant. Kristan said when a child goes through the court system, they can get shuffled from one home to another, but seeing that same familiar CASA face gives them someone they can trust.

“CASA volunteers work closely with Mahoning County Children Services,” she said. “However, we are separate. The CASA speaks up for the best interest of the child. Sometimes the best interest of the child is to return to the parent(s). Sometimes it’s best for the child to be with another relative or family friend. The CASA makes monthly home visits or more to the child’s home, serving as another set of eyes and ears for the judge or magistrate.”


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