Friday, October 2, 2009
United Way of Denton County’s partner agency ensures abused, neglected kids aren’t lost in system
CASA operates the only court advocacy program serving abused and neglected children in alternative care in Denton County.
DENTON Each year, thousands of children in the United States are thrust into the court system through no fault of their own. Some are victims of physical violence, or emotional or sexual abuse. Others have been neglected or even abandoned by their own parents. Unfortunately, many of these frightened children also become victims of an overwhelming child welfare system. The Court Appointed Special Advocate program, or CASA, was created to make sure that the abuse and neglect these children originally suffered at home doesn’t continue in the form of neglect at the hands of “the system.” Judges and attorneys in these cases need an independent voice to keep them informed about the children they are trying to help. CASA is that independent voice.
CASA operates the only court advocacy program serving abused and neglected children in alternative care in Denton County. According to the Data Book for 2008, an annual statistical publication compiled by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, there were 4,096 reports of child abuse in Denton County last year. Of those that were confirmed to have been abused or neglected, 478 children were removed from their homes and placed in the custody of the state. According to CASA’s 2008 Annual Report, 424 of those children were served by CASA. The 54 children not appointed an advocate from CASA were served by their attorney.
Because of the nature of CASA’s work, the languishing economy has little to do with the number of children that the agency serves, according to CASA Executive Director Sherri Gideon. “The number of referrals we’ve seen from Child Protective Services has remained pretty steady. How we are affected by the economy is in the amount of resources available to us. What the economic situation has done is that it has caused us to work harder for the same amount of funding as we’ve seen in the past.”
Gideon sites one of CASA’s annual fundraising events called “Pulling For Kids” as an example of where the agency has seen a decline in available resources. The sporting clay tournament raised over $52,000 this year, but that amount was $20,000 less than the amount raised last year, which significantly impacted their budget.
“Not only are individual donations down, but our corporate grants are down, as well,” Gideon said. “We’ve been turned down by a lot of foundations this year.” Again, Gideon points to the domino effect that the poor economy has had on her agency, and so many others like it. “Every year at Christmas for the past several years, a corporation in Irving has collected gift cards and toys for the children we serve, but for the last couple of years that hasn’t happened. That’s another example of how the economy has affected our ability to do things -- that small trickle-down effect that has a direct impact on the kids.”
CASA’s budget consists of funding from a number of sources. Last year, federal, state, and local government grants provided 37% of CASA’s budget, 28% came from direct donations and special events, 18% was a result of private grants from corporations, foundations, and organizations and United Way of Denton County’s allocation consisted of 8% of their 2008 budget.
With more than 100 volunteer advocates serving on cases representing children, Gideon said CASA is currently well-positioned to handle the number of cases to which they are appointed, but the agency is always looking for volunteers. “We offer training three times a year, in the summer, fall, and winter. The next training classes will begin in late January or early February.”
As is the case with many non-profits in the community and across the nation, CASA’s greatest need is simple.
“Right now, we really need money,” Gideon said. “We just bought the building we were leasing space in and we haven’t actually moved into the whole building yet. Right now we are working with a contractor and we’re hoping that by next summer, the renovations we’re working on will be complete. We’re looking for people to help us fund those renovations.”
Source: United Way of Denton County
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