In 2017, there were more than 1,700 reported cases of child abuse and neglect in Fayette and Bourbon counties. As Melynda Jamison, Executive Cirector of CASA Lexington explained, that’s not just a number of cases… each of those cases is a child.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Lexington, serve child abuse and neglect victims in the Fayette and Bourbon county family court systems. CASA uses trained and supervised CASA volunteers to advocate for the best interests of these children and ensure they are provided a safe and permanent home.
Who are CASA volunteers? As Melynda explained, they are everyday people with a passion for helping children.
“Our volunteers are appointed by judges and trained to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children,” she said. “Volunteers stay involved with each child until that child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Typically, cases last two years, so for many of these children, the CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence in their lives.”
The benefits of this intervention are many. Children who are assigned a CASA of Lexington volunteer typically spend five fewer months in foster care, experience fewer out of home placements and have significantly improved educational performance. This not only helps children recover faster, it also results in savings for the state because of the reduced time children are spending in foster care. Nationally, 88% of children with a CASA volunteer do not re-enter the system.
One of the many children that Melynda has fought for in her time with CASA was “Sawyer” (name changed to protect his identity). Sawyer is now on the track to being adopted by his foster family: without CASA, his childhood likely would have been drastically different.
A safe haven for Sawyer
Six-year-old Sawyer was brought to the attention of Social Services by a neighbor who reported him wandering the streets alone. Upon investigation, it was found that Sawyer had been left alone to babysit his twin two-year-old cousins. Sawyer had left the house, not
appropriately dressed for the weather, and was found walking in the street. He was put in foster care and a CASA volunteer was assigned.
It was discovered that Sawyer had been living in a home with his father, grandfather, aunt and her two-year-old twins. Sawyer’s mother had left the state and abandoned him two years prior. When CASA became involved, Sawyer’s father was in rehabilitation for alcohol and substance abuse.
Upon entering foster care, Sawyer used profanity, drew graphic pictures, urinated in corners, destroyed furniture, hid food under his bed, had nightmares, we the bed and was demonstrating inappropriate behavior. Sawyer disclosed to his CASA volunteer that his aunt had physically abused him. It was also determined that Sawyer had been sexually abused.
Sawyer’s mother chose not to become involved in his life. Sawyer’s father completed 70 days of a 365-day substance abuse treatment program, but he exited the program early. Sawyer’s aunt had abuse convictions and was clearly not a viable option for placement.
Sawyer expressed to his CASA volunteer that he wanted to stay in his foster home, where he was happy, loved and safe.
Sawyer’s CASA volunteer recommended that he move forward with adoption. Sawyer is now on track to being adopted by his foster family. He repeatedly expresses his love for his foster parents and siblings. He is doing well in school: he is in the advanced reading group and excelling in math. He is respecting others and exhibits a winning personality. Sawyer had his first-ever birthday party this year. Heartbreakingly, he told his CASA volunteer that he was excited that he would be able to keep his birthday presents because they would not be pawned.
Prior to CASA of Lexington getting involved with Sawyer’s case, the original thought was to train his guardians on appropriate responsibilities for a six-year-old child as well as provide some outside resources. If the CASA volunteer had not gotten involved, Sawyer would have been sent back to an unsafe home.
Our community has a role to play
Thanks in large part to community support, CASA of Lexington was able to advocate for 529 children between Fayette and Bourbon Counties last year. Thirty-three of those children were from Bourbon County, which was a new county of service that CASA of Lexington was able to add in in March 2017.
While more than 500 children were provided a CASA advocate, many more could not be served by CASA of Lexington due to lack of staff and volunteers. Local CASA programs rely heavily on donations and funds raised from events to run their programs. At the present, only 46 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are served by this important program.
Over the past four years, CASA of Lexington has seen significant growth in children served, revenue and active CASA volunteers. When Melynda joined CASA of Lexington in 2013, the program had 71 active CASA volunteers serving 171 children. Last year, CASA of Lexington had 185 active CASA volunteers serving more than 500 children. CASA of Lexington served 33 percent of the child abuse and neglect cases that were filed in 2017. All of this was possible through the growth of CASA of Lexington’s internal staff.
“We operate on a shoestring budget so that we can increase volunteers and ultimately serve more children,” Melynda said. “This is why community awareness is so important—when we have community support, we have the opportunity to change a child’s life.”
CASA of Lexington is always looking for volunteers to advocate for children in Fayette and Bourbon Counties. To be a CASA volunteer, one must be at least 21 years of age, willing to consent to various background checks, able to make a two-year commitment, have the ability to commit to a 30-hour training that is held locally and be sworn in by a family court judge.
For those that are unable to volunteer in this capacity or the CASA volunteer role is not a good fit, there is the Friends of CASA volunteer program, which helps with fundraising events, or if someone has have a special skill, they can donate their time and talent. For example, currently CASA of Lexington is looking for someone that has an interest in helping procure donated items. If this is a volunteer role you would be interested in, please contact their office for more information (859) 246-4313.
CASA of Lexington also has a board of directors, which members of the community are encouraged to apply for a board position. For more information on how to volunteer, please contact Program Manager Shay Spradlin at [email protected]
“We don’t know how many ‘Sawyers’ are out there, so why wouldn’t we choose to invest in these kids now?” Melynda asked. “If you are involved in any groups, whether it is a church small group, book club or leadership role, and would be interested in having a CASA speaker at your next meeting, please contact me at [email protected] or (859) 246-4313. CASA is a program that has been proven to work and we believe everyone in our community has a role to play.”•
Want to give to CASA of Lexington? Here’s how:
When a donation is made to CASA of Lexington, any/all donations are used locally and go towards providing a CASA to children in our community. Donations are tax deductible and can be made via CASA of Lexington’s website, lexingtoncasa.com. Contacting their office at
(859) 246-4313 to ask about other ways to give.
Another way to get involved with CASA of Lexington is by making a donation to The CASA Shop, which accepts donations for CASA volunteers and CASA children. Please note that CASA of Lexington does not receive any funding from United Way, so they rely heavily on support from the community in order to serve the children needing advocacy in the community.