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Casey Family Services gets permanent home in Mission

MISSION, S.D. - A permanent home for the Casey Family Services will soon take shape across from Sinte Gleska University.

An arm of the Anne E. Casey Foundation, the organization provides assistance in placing children in foster and adoptive care. It has operated out of temporary facilities in Rosebud for nearly seven years.

The 75-acre site on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in south central South Dakota will accommodate a 7,600-square foot structure to house more than 20 offices and a conference facility. It will cost nearly $1 million.

A ground-breaking ceremony was conducted a few weeks ago and the project should be completed yet this fall, said Gene Ligtenberg, division director.

The agency also has facilities in Rapid City and Pine Ridge. The latter represents the most recent addition in a five-year building program and long-range plan to extend services in reservation communities, he said.

"We've been operating out of temporary quarters in Rosebud since 1994. We are operating out of two mobile units in Mission. As our program developed, we needed more space.

"We typically build our own space and would like it to be a contribution to the community, a very nice looking building." he said, adding that the floor plan is identical to the Rapid City building, but the exterior will reflect the culture of this area in its design, he said.

"We have extensive use of rock on the outside of the building. The whole area is set up in a circle. The footprint of the lot is designed so that in the future if other child and family agencies want to join us, we can do that. We could add other buildings," Ligtenberg said.

The Mission site was chosen because of its central location and greater access after the agency looked at several potential sites here and in Rosebud.

"The program has a significant commitment to working with minorities in the communities where we are. Several years ago, we established a special focus with working with Native Americans," Ligtenberg said.

"We've been working in South Dakota on the reservations since 1983. In 1994, we established offices in Rosebud and Pine Ridge already planning at that time to do the building we're doing."

Ligtenberg said the agency won't be expanding to more sites in South Dakota, but, "We are always looking for ways of providing more services in the communities we're in. Across the country, we're looking at expanding some of our services at other sites."

It has already started to expand its services to include collaborative relationships with tribal governments and the BIA.

"In the past about the only thing we did was foster care. We're expanding to provide services to (include) children who may not necessarily be in the custody of Casey Family Programs. In the past, we became the guardian of the children and placed them in homes. At this point we're opening our doors to provide services to kids who are in other out-of-home placements through other organizations like the tribe, the state, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Corrections. We're also looking at providing other services to guardians," he said.

Currently, we have a contract (short-term) with National Indian Child Welfare Association to develop services for tribes across the country," he said.

Expanding its active role to assist foster and adoptive children and their families, the agency is gradually moving into helping these youngsters make their transition into adulthood.

"We're looking at young people who have been in and out of home placements to help them learn to live independently. Persons who have been institutionalized or in foster care have a hard time taking care of themselves into adulthood," Ligtenberg said.

Basic living skills such as learning how to cook and do laundry are some skills taught in a Rapid City "Stepping Stones" program.

The director said one of the challenges the agency faces is finding places for young people in the reservation setting because of the limitations in availability of rental units. Very often what is available through tribal housing are homes, sometimes too large for individuals or smaller families, and there is generally a waiting list even for larger families.

Ligtenberg said a few times the agency has been able to place individuals with families willing to rent a room, but that doesn't really give the young person the opportunity to live on their own.

The agency is working with focus groups in the communities to determine what programs might further assist the populations that it serves, he said.