Court Appointed Special Advocates of Johnson and Wyandotte Counties (CASA), in collaboration with Jackson County CASA were recently awarded $10,000 from the Country Club Christian Church to help pay salaries for Program Supervisors who are specially-trained to support volunteers advocating for children from birth to age five who are involved in the court system due to abuse or neglect.
CASA’s Youngest Victims program ensures that volunteers, working under the guidance of CASA’s Program Supervisors, receive the necessary training and information to serve the specific needs of this vulnerable age group. Program Supervisors have years of experience in the child welfare system and understand how to access resources available to children and families in crisis. Both CASA organizations have dedicated Program Supervisors who serve as the in-house specialist on children 5 years and younger. These Supervisors attend workshops that focus on early childhood development issues, and train volunteers on such topics as identification of pediatric abuse and neglect, therapeutic day care options for young children, working with young victims of sexual assault, and other topics crucial to helping younger children. Each CASA Supervisor oversees up to 35 volunteers. Funding from the Country Club Christian Church will help to support these professionals as they guide and mentor volunteers.
The purpose of the Youngest Victims program is to make sure the best interests of children from birth to age five are held paramount by the judges making decisions that determine their future. The program accomplishes this by training and supporting volunteers who advocate directly on behalf of children in this age group in the three counties. Of the 1,414 children served by CASA in 2013, 537 (38%) were five years old or younger. Children in the Youngest Victims program face unique problems because of their age. They are often too young to understand, recognize, or disclose abuse and neglect, so it is very difficult for them to seek help on their own. They are not as likely as older children to be in the presence of knowledgeable and caring adults, such as school teachers or members of the clergy, so there are fewer people who might notice or report abuse and neglect on their behalf. Foster care workers are reassigned frequently, and information regarding the child’s developmental progress, medical and behavioral issues is often incomplete or absent.
CASA anticipates 570 children will be served by the Youngest Victims program over the duration of this grant term.
CASA agencies provide effective advocacy services to abused and neglected children who are involved in the Family Court systems in Jackson County, Johnson County, and Wyandotte County. Jackson County CASA was founded in 1983 and Johnson County CASA followed in 1985. In 2005, Johnson County services were expanded to include abused and neglected children living in Wyandotte County and CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties came into existence. CASA’s mission is to be a child’s voice in court. The organizations recruit, train and support lay volunteers who act as advocates on behalf of the best interests of abused and neglected children. CASA’s goals are to secure a safe, permanent home for each child, and to advocate for appropriate medical, educational, and therapeutic resources while the child is under the court jurisdiction. CASAs are the only volunteers appointed by a judge and empowered to speak up for abused and neglected children in court.