Every child needs a safe, supportive, nurturing family in order to grow and develop into a productive and nurturing adult. But regrettably, not all children are so lucky. That is where the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program comes in. Our programs save children’s lives, and by doing so, they also save Kentuckians’ money (more about that in a minute).
But the need in our state far outstrips the resources of this unduplicated child advocacy program. In 2014 there were 20,396 cases of substantiated child abuse in Kentucky, a 36 percent rise since 2011. Yet CASA’s programs, stretched paper-thin over just a third of Kentucky counties, were able to serve less than 20 percent of those child victims. We need funding to support more of our children in need.
Largely a volunteer organization, CASA’s 19 programs in Kentucky advocate on behalf of the abused and neglected children who end up in the child welfare and court system through no fault of their own. CASA volunteers – who are fully vetted and extensively trained and supported — make sure that child victims receive targeted wrap-around services to help them safely thrive while they are in out-of-home care.
Consider the story of siblings Janet, Tim and Susan, ages 4, 3 and 2. Tim’s natural mother physically abused him, and the children were removed from their home. Sarah, the CASA volunteer, visited these children weekly in the maternal grandmother’s home, talked with therapists, physicians, in-home workers, Cabinet workers, and teachers. She had concerns that the grandmother’s health impeded her ability to adequately care for the children.
She then received a disturbing email from the children’s preschool teachers describing them as dirty and smelly, with little academic progress and disruptive classroom behaviors, and – worryingly – no response from the grandmother to their concerns. Sarah facilitated communication between the children’s attorney and the school. The attorney subpoenaed the teachers, whose testimony in court resulted in the children being moved to a foster home. Within a year the children were formally adopted by the foster parents.
A success story for these three children, yes, but too many others languish. The really frustrating thing is that CASA can achieve these successes while saving the state millions of dollars. Take a look at the numbers.
The cost to provide a CASA volunteer to a child in Kentucky is $650 a year. The cost for foster care is $2,100 a month or more. The data show that child victims with CASA volunteers spend 7.5 fewer months in foster care – a savings of nearly $16,000 per single case. Multiply that by a few hundred (or thousands) and pretty soon it adds up to real dollars, millions of them. Children with CASA volunteers also experience fewer out-of-home placements, and perform significantly better in school. What’s more, better than 90 percent never reenter the child welfare system after permanent placement.
This is an incredibly efficient use of funds, with the kind of positive outcome Kentucky’s children deserve.
It doesn’t take a math major to figure this one out. So what’s the problem? Unlike programs in 43 other states, Kentucky CASA programs receive no state funding. We have to rely on fluctuating, unpredictable revenue from three variable sources: Competitive grants (that must be re-applied for each year), fund-raising events, and individual and corporate donations.
It would have cost about $13 million for the CASA network to serve all of Kentucky’s child victims in 2014. Yet CASA programs independently raised only about $2.5 million that year, an amount falling far short of the need.
With just a modest $3.1 million of funding in the Commonwealth’s general budget during the next two years, CASA programs could reach 15 percent more children over the two-year period; fund a CASA network central office to strengthen infrastructure and assure accountability; and provide additional funding to help establish new programs or expand existing ones.
Please contact your legislators today and ask them to vote to save child victims’ lives and taxpayer dollars. Ask your representatives to partner with the Kentucky CASA Network and invest $3.1 million as a General Budget line item in the 2016 – 2018 budget.
Kentucky’s child victims are depending on your voice in Frankfort.
Andrea Bruns is director of the Kentucky CASA Network.