In 2009, Kentucky ranked first among the fifty states in cases of child abuse and neglect. Since then, our numbers have improved, but the statistics are still startling. According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, 15,699 cases of child abuse or neglect were documented in 2012. Twenty-two of these were fatal, and 33 more were nearly so. While the efforts of CASA of Ohio Valley are immense, it takes a community to protect these children and educate all parents.
What can you do to help CASA of Ohio Valley raise awareness and combat child abuse and neglect in our area?
Court Appointed Special Services (CASA) was founded in 1977 by a Seattle juvenile court judge “concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information.” Our local CASA chapter is one of 951 community-based programs across the United States “that recruit, train and support citizen volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities.” Since its inception in 1996, CASA of Ohio Valley has provided advocates for over 1,800 abused and neglected children from Daviess, Ohio and Hancock counties.
According to Executive Director Vikki Embry, 112 children were assisted last year, and 23 volunteer advocates are currently working 57 caseloads. To accurately represent their needs, the advocates meet weekly with the children at home or school to evaluate their physical and emotional wellbeing. This also provides a constant in the often tumultuous life of a child going through the court system.
Become a Volunteer
CASA of Ohio Valley has recently grown exponentially due to a grant via the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) which allowed for the hiring of additional staff and more opportunities for volunteer training. Embry would like to reach a total of 50 advocates. To become a CASA volunteer, one must pass a federal background check and participate in thirty hours of training. Half of this may be completed from home through an online study. The remaining 15 hours are completed over five weeks during 3-hour sessions at the CASA of Ohio Valley headquarters. The next training begins May 11, 2015.
The current class consists of nine future advocates. Half are employees of US Bank, thanks to a recruiting email sent to all area branches. Travis Henning is becoming an advocate because he grew up with foster siblings. He says, “Being a CASA volunteer gives you the chance to give something to the future. Growing up in the world today is hard enough, but the absence of a loving family just adds to the difficulty. By volunteering, I can make someone’s tomorrow a happier and more loving place.”
Spread the Word
Most of the nonprofit’s funding comes from local businesses and private sponsors. For the past six years, Owensboro Health Regional Hospital has been the leading donor. Embry collaborates with the hospital to distribute fliers and provide education about issues that might contribute to child abuse and neglect such as substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health. On the last Saturday of September, CASA holds an annual auction which includes food, live entertainment, and an art exhibit. Last year’s event included 150 silent items and a variety of others. They also have a booth at the Apple Fest and hold various raffles. In January, CASA of Ohio Valley was nominated by the Chamber of Commerce as a Nonprofit Organization of the Year.
Make a Donation
Every dollar given, every item donated, and every hour volunteered goes to a good cause – the children of our community. Several church groups contribute blankets, stuffed animals and crayons for “Bedtime Bags” for children going into foster care. At the start of each school year, CASA provides every child being represented with a backpack of supplies. Unilever provides paper products, but other items of need such as diapers and cleaning supplies can be donated at CASA headquarters at 415 St. Ann in downtown Owensboro. Even IT (information technology) help would be much appreciated.
As one can see, CASA is not made possible by the efforts of a select few, but by the cooperation of many. Board member Casey Taylor says, “Being involved with an organization like CASA means that you are either directly or indirectly involved in the advocacy of a child in need. To have the support of our wonderful community means that Owensboro is not turning its head from this issue of child abuse and neglect but taking a stand against it and doing the right thing by education and volunteering.”
If you would like to know more about becoming involved with CASA of Ohio Valley, please visit their Facebook page, email Robin Gaynor at [email protected], or call 270-683-2138.
To report child abuse or neglect, please call the Kentucky Child Protection Hot Line: 1-877-KYSAFE1