Kentucky CASA Network and Kentucky Bar Foundation: A Partnership Advocating for Kentucky’s Abused and Neglected Children
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) are volunteers who are appointed by judges in child abuse and neglect cases to research the case, review documents, interview people and make a report to the Court as to what is in the best interest of abused and/or neglected children. The KBF has been extremely supportive of CASA Programs in Kentucky. More volunteers have been trained and children served as a direct result of grant funds from the KBF.
What is CASA?
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASAs are volunteers who are appointed by judges in child abuse and neglect cases to research the case, review documents, interview people and make a report to the Court as to what is in the best interest of abused and/or neglected children in terms of services, placement, visitation, reunification, and permanency.
CASAs are objective, community volunteers who are not part of the child welfare system, who focus their efforts solely on gathering information and making recommendations regarding children in abuse, neglect, or dependency cases -- who would otherwise have no voice. Volunteers are carefully screened and are very well trained. They receive a minimum 30 hours of initial training and 12 hours of ongoing training each year.
CASA volunteers monitor the child’s situation while they are in foster care to make sure they are safe and to make sure their psychological, physical, educational and other needs are met. Volunteers are often the only constant the child knows as he or she moves through the labyrinth of the child welfare system. When a CASA volunteer accepts a case, they must agree to stay with it until the child has a safe, permanent home. Because volunteers carry only 1 or 2 cases at a time and are assigned to each case for its life, they typically have a depth and breadth of information that other parties may not have. Because of this extensive focus on the child, CASA's national motto is: "I am for the Child."
The role and impact of CASA is best stated by Hon. Jo Ann Wise, retired Chief Judge, Fayette County Family Court:
"I'm not able to come off of the bench and go into the home and talk to the child or see the child's situation and the CASA can do all of that for me -- and tell me what I don't find out otherwise. So the most important thing is that the child has a voice in the decisions I make when they're not even there."
The Partnership with CASA and the KBF:
The KBF has been extremely supportive of CASA Programs in Kentucky. More volunteers have been trained and children served as a direct result of grant funds from the KBF. Funds enable CASA staff to train and supervise volunteers who serve children. As Retired Judge W. Todd Walton II noted:
“The 19th Judicial District of Bracken, Fleming and Mason Counties is greatly benefited by the CASA Program for Bracken, Fleming and Mason Counties, Inc. The CASA program is successful because of its many dedicated volunteers and community support. Last year the Kentucky Bar Foundation supported the Kentucky CASA Network with a generous grant that enabled the nineteen CASA programs in Kentucky to continue the quality and timely advocacy of children in court because of dependency, neglect and abuse."
Judge Brandi Rogers wrote the following about why she believes getting CASA in the 5th Judicial Circuit, Family Court Division is so important:
“I have little ability to know what a family is facing or a child is in need of, outside what the social workers tell me. CASA would fill a great void in not only keeping me apprised of a family’s situation, but also exhibiting to the family there are many entities there to help.”
The following is a case study of how a child was served and the impact his CASA made in his life:
“Sawyer” age six was brought to the attention of Social Services by a neighbor who reported him wandering the streets alone and inappropriately dressed for the weather. Upon investigation, it was found Sawyer had been left alone to babysit his two-year-old twin cousins and had left the house and was walking in the street. Sawyer was put in foster care and a CASA volunteer was assigned.
It was discovered Sawyer had been living in a home with his father, grandfather, aunt, and her two-year-old twins and was often left as the babysitter. Sawyer’s mother had left the state and abandoned him two years prior to CASA becoming involved. When CASA became involved Sawyer’s father was in rehabilitation for alcohol and substance abuse. Sawyer suffered physical and sexual abuse in the home.
Sawyer expressed to his CASA volunteer he wanted to stay in his foster home where he was happy, loved and safe. He also asked his CASA to not make him go back to the house that hurt him.
Sawyer’s mother chose not to become involved in his life; his father completed 70 days of a 365 day substance abuse treatment program and then exited the program. His aunt had abuse convictions and was not a viable option for placement. Therefore, the CASA has recommended moving forward with adoption for Sawyer.
Sawyer is on the track to being adopted by his foster family. He repeatedly expresses his love for his foster parents and siblings. He is doing well in school and is in the advanced reading group and excelling in math. He is respecting others and exhibits a winning personality. Sawyer had his first ever birthday party this year and told his CASA he was so excited his presents would not be pawned and he would be able to keep them.
CASA Volunteers advocate for kids like Sawyer every, single day. They make a difference for kids like Sawyer every, single day.