CASA director: Record number of abused, neglected kids are in York County court system

YORK – A record number of abused and neglected kids are currently involved in the York County judicial system in some way.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the York County CASA program is here to help, with court-appointed advocates being assigned to as many cases as possible.

But another twist is that state and federal funding for the program continues to dwindle, with some grants being cut altogether.

Still, local CASA volunteers and the local program director Elizabeth Hain remain committed to be the voices for those kids as the court process plays out.

Hain made her annual report to the county commissioners, as well as the entity’s budget request for the 2023-24 fiscal year.

“Last year, 2022, we had a record number of kids in the system and this year, we have already broken that record,” Hain said. “We are serving 34 kids now and that number will go up to 36 by the end of the week. Unfortunately, we have 68 kids in our system,” with just enough court appointed advocates to serve 36.

The volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for foster children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. The CASA programs in Nebraska operate in compliance with the Nebraska Court Appointed Special Advocate Act.

Statistics regarding the CASA program, according to information provided by Nebraska CASA show “a child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to find a safe, permanent home and have a consistent and responsible adult presence. A child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to do better in school and spend less time in foster care.”

“The abused and neglected children we advocate for come from families who struggle with substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues and/or unsanitary living conditions. When a CASA volunteer is assigned, they meet with the child/children on a regular basis, attend team meetings and court hearings, and talk with anyone (parents, teachers, counselors, daycare providers, foster parents, service providers, case managers, medical staff, etc.) who may be involved in that child’s life. They report to the court important information about the child and family and make recommendations on behalf of each child regarding their needs, wants and safety.”

As Hain said, the number of abused and neglected children in the York County Court system has vastly grown. In 2018, there were 42 kids in the system; In 2019, there were 31. In 2020, the number went to 40. In 2021, the number was 48. There were 67 kids in the system in 2022. And the number now, already, only six months into 2023, is already 68.

Hain said in “all of CASA for York County’s history, we have not seen a calendar year with more abused and neglected children. Despite the challenges this caseload presented and continues to present, CASA for York was able to serve and continues to serve a record number of children. When numbers of abused children increased, our efforts increased. While we are saddened by the trend we are seeing in the number of children in need, we are hopeful that our efforts will continue to be reflected in the number of children served.”

The county provides $45,000 in funds each year, plus the in-kind contribution of providing office space in the courthouse across the hall from the county attorney’s office.

She said no increases in funding will be coming from Nebraska CASA and the last donation from the Terpstra Foundation will come this year. They lost a large grant that provided a substantial amount of money in the past and other sources are likely going to be decreasing contributions due to cuts at the federal level.

Local CASA board members continue to locally fundraise. And Hain said her office is continuously looking out for grants money as well as making applications.

She asked the commissioners to consider their current level of funding and they thanked her, as well as the team of volunteers and board members, for their valuable work.

The commissioners will consider the budget request during the ongoing process this summer.

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