BERLIN – Federal funding cuts could soon mean big changes for one of Worcester County’s key child advocacy groups.
A portion of funding for CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — in Worcester County could be in jeopardy. According to Brigitte Southworth, CASA director, the roughly $26,000 a year the organization usually receives through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) could be cut by Congress in the coming weeks. She says local volunteers have been busy asking area politicians to do what they can to oppose the move.
“They’ve been inundated with calls,” Southworth said.
According to Southworth, in Worcester County CASA advocates for local children who get caught up in the legal system.
“These are kids that have been abused or neglected and are in the court system,” she said.
Her organization provides them with adults, primarily volunteers, to help them through the process. CASA volunteers read a child’s case file, interview the people in that child’s life and accompany the child to court. They provide recommendations to the judge when it comes time to decide the child’s future.
“They stay with them until the case is closed,” Southworth said.
This year, CASA’s 45 volunteers have helped 51 children. If CASA loses its VOCA funding, one of its two paid positions — that of volunteer supervisor — could be eliminated. Southworth says it’s that individual who is tasked with recruiting, training and supervising the volunteers needed to help children in court.
“If this position was eliminated, it would drastically reduce the amount of volunteers the CASA program trains and supervises, which obviously would mean we would not be able to advocate for all the abused and neglected children in Worcester County,” Southworth said. “So ultimately, the children would suffer and they would not have a volunteer to advocate for their rights or be their voice in court.”
She says that if the funding cut does occur, it will have a huge impact on the CASA program locally as well as statewide. She’s optimistic, however, that lawmakers will take the myriad of calls from concerned citizens they’ve been receiving into account as they make a decision. CASA has not yet developed a plan for how to deal with the funding cut if it does occur.