State funds sought for special advocates

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony March 10 on a bill that would provide state aid to the court appointed special advocate (CASA) program.

CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge to research and advocate for the best interest of abused and neglected children who are in the court system.

LB229, introduced by Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier, would appropriate $400,000 in general fund dollars in fiscal year 2015-16 and FY2016-17 to the state Supreme Court to be used solely for the CASA program.

Watermeier said CASA has existed in Nebraska for 30 years but received state funding for the first time in FY2011-12. The program has proven beneficial to children in the foster care system, he said, but needs a predictable, ongoing source of funding in order to concentrate on serving the state’s children rather than fundraising.

“More than 2,000 abused and neglected children are in the system without a CASA volunteer,” Watermeier said.

Corrie Kielty, executive director of the Nebraska CASA Association, testified in support of the bill. CASA has 22 programs that serve 38 counties in Nebraska, she said, and expanding into unserved counties would save the state money in the long run.

Keilty said children with a CASA volunteer spend an average of four fewer months in out-of-home placement than children without an advocate. If every child had a volunteer, she said, it would save the state an average of $12.5 million a month.

“CASA is an incredibly cost-effective program,” Keilty said.

Mari Jackson, coordinator for the Otoe County CASA program, agreed. Testifying in support of the bill, she said the Otoe County program is fairly new but currently is serving 24 children.

“In spite of our very limited history, the difference our advocates are making in the lives of abused and neglected children is clear,” Jackson said.

No one testified in opposition and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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