After facing federal funding woes, YWCA Clark County’s program where volunteers advocate for children in court has secured funding for another year.
The nonprofit’s Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, program will get through 2020 in large part due to a $128,000 boost from the county. Community members also donated $60,000 while the National CASA Association contributed $58,000 to build the number of CASAs. Last year, the local CASA program lost about $200,000 in Victims of Crime Act grant funding, so YWCA held a six-month fundraising campaign to fill the gap.
“We are so grateful for the generosity demonstrated by all our partners as we take this organization to a new level of advocacy for children,” CASA program director Sheryl Thierry said in a news release.
CASA volunteers advocate for children under age 12 who are in state care as a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Washington requires a guardian ad litem be appointed to represent these children in local courts.
A CASA costs about $1,000 annually compared with $6,000 for a contracted guardian ad litem or $9,000 for an attorney. County Councilor Temple Lentz said the county would have had to pay either way for court representation, and CASAs are the more effective option.
“And there’s the benefit, that it costs less,” Temple said.
By shifting things around, the Clark County Council was able to add $128,000 to its contract with the CASA program, bringing the total to $430,496.
“We’re hoping to see it (the $128,000) as one-time support,” Lentz said. She added that it’s more of a state funding issue, which the council has discussed with local legislators.
“Our legislators were incredibly responsive to this,” she said. “I am hopeful as we move into next year’s session, we’ll have more time and freedom to work on viable solutions.”
YWCA brought back two CASA employees to advocate for children in court and to assess incoming cases. The goal is to find replacement funding for those positions and build the volunteer base from 130 to 200.
“We have so many kids in care we don’t have enough volunteers,” Thierry said.
Becoming a CASA isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires more than 50 hours of training before becoming a sworn officer of the court — on top of a background check, orientation and interview. Volunteers are asked to commit to at least two years with the program.
“This isn’t a volunteer role everyone can do,” Thierry said.
Still, CASAs helped 780 children or about 80 percent of those in the child welfare system last year. In their role, they talk with judges about what would be in a child’s best interests and try to see that the child gets the services they need.
On Feb. 24, YWCA will head to the capital to lobby for stable CASA funding.