CASA as seen by others…

What’s the bottom line?

We’ve covered CASA (court-appointed special advocates) in some detail for the past three weeks. Let’s reduce it to the basics here.

CASA is an organization of dedicated volunteers who provide critical assistance to some of the county’s most unfortunate children – those who are living in homes where they are abused, mistreated, ignored, or just not taken care of. Or worse, maybe much worse. But nobody wants to talk about how bad it can get. Somebody might recognize themselves and decide to sue. Sometimes it’s that bad.

Blount County CASA is losing the majority of its local funding at the end of this calendar year. The substantial funding they’ve gotten from United Way of Central Alabama for the last several years won’t be renewed in 2013.

Until recently, there was some prospect, however faint, of relief from the national CASA organization. But a few days ago, local organizations were notified that over half of the federal funding has already been eliminated – from $12 million to $4.5 million – and now the current administration has proposed eliminating the rest of it. So, the hope for relief from that source is gone. The organization is trying to put together an emergency grassroots effort to lobby congressional representatives to restore full funding. It sounds like a long shot.

The conclusion is inescapable that as a society and as a nation we know not what we do. In plainer terms, we know not what they do – they being CASA.

As a postscript to the CASA story we’ve been telling for the last three weeks, we’re going to add some brief comments below from several people who know what CASA does, because they’ve worked with them long enough to value it. This will give a flavor of how CASA is seen by those in a position to know. District Judge Sherry Burns: “The CASA volunteer is an extra set of eyes and ears for the court. The more help you have, the more views of the child’s world you can get and that’s what you gotta have. Losing CASA would be a great loss to the community and particularly to the children. To not have CASA as an option – that’s something I don’t want to think about. I hope and pray they can find the funding, because without it our kids will suffer. I’m just thankful of the support they provide to me, to the court, to the community, and to the kids who need them. If the community understands what they do, support for them will be more forthcoming.” Libby Nash, local attorney on the board of the Department of Human Resources (DHR), former DHR social worker, former juvenile probation officer, has practiced in juvenile court for many years: “I hate to hear their funding has been cut. It’s a real negative for juvenile court in my opinion. What’s so bad is that so many services for children are being cut – services to provide counsel, to protect them, to reunite the family. I have never seen so many dependency cases and foster care cases as in the last few years. Children are having to be removed (from their homes) because of drugs and alcohol problems. I’ve been around DHR and the juvenile court for over 30 years, and it’s just unbelievable. If CASA goes under, there will be a void that won’t be filled. There is only so much the DHR social worker can do because of the caseload and other things. Besides, CASA can find out things that DHR and even the child’s guardian ad litem can’t. The parents are going to be very angry and defensive with DHR, because they’re afraid of them.The CASA worker is a third party, more like a friend to the family. They can find out things others can’t. There will not be independent eyes for the child, there will be no personal relationship with the child, there will be no thirdparty point of view for the court to rely on. I just hope the community gets behind them (CASA).” Bethany Valdez, DHR foster care supervisor, and Randy Redmill, DHR interim director: (statements are reported from this dual interview as if only one person made them; in fact there were two present and both responded.) “CASA is another support for the child and for the family and they can access information we don’t know and can’t get. They’re helpful because sometimes there are a lot of parties involved – relatives and so on – and they have the time to talk to those people. They get information that DHR and even the attorneys can’t get.” (The DHR interview was fascinating, informative, and led off in several directions other than CASA. But it’s a story for another time.) Bottom line

CASA needs your financial support. CASA also needs volunteers to take on this unglamorous job that literally means the world to the children affected. To volunteer either or both, call Sarah Calvert, 625-4577 at work three days a week: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Or you can reach her at (205) 329-4813.