Janesville32.7°

'Children will be slipping through the cracks'

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
July 18, 2010
— The 7-year-old was acting out and had attempted suicide.

Most of the child’s troubles were the result of being placed in foster care outside of Rock County and not being allowed to see relatives for more than six months.


But after a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer informed the judge of the child’s need for mental health services and the necessity to reconnect with family, good things happened.


“The child did receive inpatient mental health services, upon discharge from that facility had a visit with grandparents and eventually was removed from the foster home and placed with grandparents,’’ said Wanda Diderich, CASA program director.


The case represents one of 105 abused and neglected children served by CASA of Rock County volunteers, who have been speaking up in the best interest of children since October 2005.


CASA has 21 volunteers serving 33 children, but about 150 new children are in need of services each year, Diderich said.


Even more worrisome is that CASA, a nonprofit program of Family Services of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, won’t be able to meet even part of the local need because National CASA Association funding ended June 30.


CASA of Rock County received $162,000 from the national organization over the past five years, but it did not receive grant money for its 2010-11 fiscal year that started July 1.


The national CASA money is not intended to sustain programs long term, Diderich said.


“Eventually, the community has to wrap around the program for it to be sustained,’’ she said.


When funding wasn’t received, “it was disheartening,” Diderich said.


The $40,000 shortfall makes up half of the program’s operating budget.


“We’re deeply concerned that a program such as this is at risk of going away because of this gap in funding. In order to mobilize the volunteers, we have to have the staff to train, support and supervise them. Our budget is pretty small for what we’re able to do,’’ Diderich said.


Diderich works at CASA full-time and has a part-time co-worker.


Loss of national funding, she said, “does not reflect the quality of our program or standards or procedures we follow. We have measures in place to assure the services we offer are quality,’’ she said.


The Wisconsin CASA Association helped put together a direct mail appeal asking those familiar with CASA of Rock County for financial support. Since the beginning of June, CASA has received $850. Letters also were sent to foundations asking for money, Diderich said.


“What we really need are some champions of our program, funding we feel like we can depend on,’’ she said.


Without CASA, “numerous children will be slipping through the cracks,’’ said Kim Churchill, a CASA volunteer of three years.


New CASA volunteer Roy Carter agreed that if CASA was eliminated, it would be devastating.


“CASA volunteers build relationships with these children who are so lost and don’t trust anyone. It just takes time,” he said.


But time isn’t on CASA’s side.


For the short term—through the end of 2010—CASA should be able to continue, Diderich said.


“But next year,” she said, “we’re at extreme risk.”



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