Jan Butorovich has always had a soft spot for children, especially those who end up in the court system through neglect or abuse.
As a volunteer for the Yellowstone Court Appointed Special Advocates program, Butorovich has devoted hundreds of hours a year working for children and speaking for them in court. In the nine years she has volunteered, Butorovich has been an advocate for 33 children and usually serves two families at a time. She also is the volunteer representative on CASA’s board of directors.
“Each new case is so different it continues to be interesting,’’ she said. “It’s very important to know what the child wants.”
Last month, Butorovich received the CASA of Montana Volunteer Advocate of the Year at the 2010 Montana Child Abuse Prevention Conference in Helena. Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice presented Butorovich with a plaque.
Some of her “miracle” cases, she said, include a single aunt in her 20s who adopted three young children when their mother could not care for them. The aunt bought a house and “has been extremely successful” with the children, she said. In another case, placement for a severely disabled baby appeared improbable until a nurse who had cared for the baby agreed to become the child’s guardian.
“There’s so much good in the world,” Butorovich said.
When a child has a good placement, Butorovich said, it “gives you a sense of satisfaction and success. And it feels good.”
CASA is a statewide program that networks with 15 local programs, which are individual nonprofit organizations. The local CASAs operate in their own judicial districts.
Advocates are trained volunteers who regularly visit children in foster care, speak up for their needs and make reports in the best interests of the children to the judge. Advocates work with the judges, attorneys appointed to represent the children, social workers and other professionals.
Shirley Folkwein, Yellowstone CASA’s executive director, said Butorovich is well-respected. “More importantly, with her unique style of gentle compassion with firmness, she connects with the children, and family members trust Jan and listen to her,” Folkwein said in nominating Butorovich for the award.
Butorovich gravitates toward children with special needs because she understands them, she said. But Butorovich has spent a lifetime caring for people with special needs of all ages.
A registered occupational therapist, Butorovich worked for 30 years as a therapist at the Warm Springs State Hospital. In 1988, she moved to Billings, where she worked at the new psychiatric center at what is now Billings Clinic for 10 years before retiring in 1997.
Butorovich began advocating for children while in Anaconda and joined Yellowstone CASA in April 2001, about a year after the program got started locally.
In addition to child advocacy, Butorovich had been a hospice volunteer since 1997 and visits the homebound and ill through pastoral care work she does through her church, St. Stephens Episcopal Church.
A pet lover — German shepherds in particular — Butorovich has been involved in pet therapy programs for more than 40 years.
At 78, with two knee replacements, Butorovich is in good health and shows no sign of slowing down. “I do stay busy,” she said. “I was used to working eight hours a day. I get up. I need to have some purpose during the day.”
Butorovich said she was honored to be recognized for her CASA work and credited the support of her large family. “It’s amazing to be honored for something you love to do. You don’t really know how to react except to say, ‘thank you.’ ”