NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ) – Residents of Jessamine and Garrard counties can now take direct action to help abused and neglected children in their communities.
The two counties now have a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, which enables trained community volunteers to serve as a voice for children in family court.
As new volunteers complete training, Family Court Judge Jeff Moss will be able to appoint them to local cases involving abuse and neglect.
“I’m excited to have CASA in the 13th Circuit,” Judge Moss said. “The time CASA volunteers will spend will only benefit the children and families of Garrard and Jessamine Counties. Their trained insight will further assist me in my decision making and will supplement the exceptional work being done by our local Cabinet for Health and Family Services social workers.”
CASA volunteers visit with their assigned children regularly, often getting to know them better than anyone else on the case.
They also talk to adults in the children’s lives and review records, then report back to the judge.
CASA volunteers help reduce trauma, identify what children need and ultimately help return children to safe, permanent homes faster.
“The expansion into Jessamine and Garrard counties by CASA of Lexington is a huge victory for a large population of children who previously had no CASA services available,” said Melynda Jamison, CASA of Lexington’s Executive Director. “With every community member who goes through training and becomes a CASA volunteer, we are significantly reducing harm for kids today and generations tomorrow.”
Before the expansion was announced, Jessamine County was the largest county in Kentucky without CASA services available, and Nicholasville was the largest city, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data (casa Abuse Rate Map and Data).
Around 12,800 children live in Jessamine County, and 7,800 of those children live in Nicholasville (casa Unserved Cities and Counties). The next-largest county without CASA services is Whitley, which has almost 9,200 children. The next- largest city without a CASA program is Campbellsville, which as a population of around 2,400 under 18.
More than 1 in 50 children in Jessamine County and 1 in 43 children in Garrard County suffer abuse or neglect annually, according to an analysis of data from the Department for Community Based Services and the U.S. Census.
Jessamine and Garrard’s rates exceed Kentucky’s state average. Kentucky has the highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the nation, according to the federal Child Maltreatment Report.
While more than 800,000 Kentucky children live in areas with existing CASA programs, about 196,000 more live in areas without CASA programs available, according to U.S. Census data.
This expansion will bring CASA services to an area where more than 16,000 children live, representing about 8.5% of the children in unserved areas.
The expansion of CASA services was made possible through grant funding, private contributions and contributions from the City of Nicholasville, Garrard County Fiscal Court and the City of Wilmore.
CASA of Lexington is in the process of hiring a Volunteer Manager who will be dedicated to Jessamine and Garrard counties and finding office space for the Volunteer Manager in both counties. That Volunteer Manager will be able to support up to 30 CASA volunteers across the two counties.
“Figuring out the logistics of providing CASA services is really just step one,” Jamison said. “The next, more important step is finding community members who want to step up and make a difference for children in need.”
Each CASA volunteer typically helps between 2 and 3 children each year. That means close to 100 children could receive an advocate for their best interests every year in Jessamine and Garrard — if enough community members choose to volunteer.
CASA of Lexington is actively recruiting people to serve as CASA volunteers in Garrard and Jessamine counties. The nonprofit’s next volunteer training class begins Sept. 7 and continues through Oct. 7, with classes on Tuesday evenings and a pair of Saturdays at the CASA of Lexington office, across Nicholasville Road from Lexington Green. Volunteers are not required to live in the county where they serve, but travel to court and other meetings will be necessary.
Anyone interested in volunteering can also sign up to be notified of future trainings if the current schedule doesn’t work for them or they are interested in volunteering at a later date.
After completing the initial 30-hour training class, new CASA volunteers are sworn in and matched with cases based on their skills and interests. Each CASA volunteer typically works 5 to 10 hours a month on their case.
“That 5 to 10 hours may not seem like a lot, but it’s actually a lot more than other people on the case such as social workers and attorneys have available to give an individual child,” Jamison said. “Sometimes the CASA volunteer is the one who points out a child needs glasses, or they may be on the autism spectrum, or even that their favorite teddy bear was left behind when they were removed — simple things that matter to the child, but often get overlooked without CASA present.”
To learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer, visit www.casaoflexington.org/learn. To apply online to become a CASA volunteer, visit www.casaoflexington.org/advocates. To see a full schedule of the next CASA volunteer training class, visit www.casaoflexington.org/training.
Email email@example.com or call (859) 246-4313 if you would like to be notified of future training opportunities or have any questions. You can also follow @CASAofLexington on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.