Demand increases for KC children's court advocates

KANSAS CITY (AP) — A group of volunteers that helps abused and neglected children going through the Jackson County court system will aid 1,000 children this year, the first time in its 30-year history that number has been served.

The milestone is “good news, bad news” for CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, said Martha Gershun, the group’s executive director. It means CASA has been able to help more children but also shows how demand for its services is growing, she said.

“It’s a horrible thing that so many kids need help,” Gershun said. “But it’s a good thing that CASA is there to help.”

CASA still represents only one-third of the children in the Jackson County court system, The Kansas City Star reported. The number of abuse and neglect cases referred to Jackson County Family Court has increased 38 percent since 2008, according to court records.

A struggling economy and decreased funding in Missouri for social programs is likely fueling the increase, Gershun said.

CASA volunteers work one child or a sibling group to help them get the best outcome for the difficult situation. They meet with the child, family and teachers and share information about the child with a family court judge or commissioner, who decides the child’s best interests.

That work helps fill in gaps for courts, attorneys and social workers who often are too busy to concentrate on one case, said Jackson County Family Court Administrative Judge Justine Del Muro.

“They provide a sense of stability and safety for a child going through a chaotic time in their lives,” she said.

CASA now has about 300 volunteers, and statistics show that the volunteers make a difference, Children with a CASA volunteer assigned to their cases are half as likely to be re-abused or re-enter the system. CASA also estimates that every dollar spent on CASA can save $23 in spending for the family court and foster care systems.

Gershun said CASA always needs more volunteers.

“There are hundreds of more children on the waiting list,” she said.

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