City should have a role in funding CASA

By A Contributor

Lawrence Pollack

I am a CASA volunteer and a property owner and property tax payer. Over the past few months, I have read statements attributed to City Commissioners Wynn Butler, John Matta and Loren Pepperd and writings from citizens such as Steve Disbrow, arguing that Manhattan should discontinue its policy of contributing funds to non-governmental agencies that provide social services to Manhattan residents. The following is presented in the hope that correct information regarding Sunflower CASA Project will convince holders of narrow political views that Manhattan should continue to provide funds to help support that agency.

CASA volunteers are trained to advocate for abused or neglected children in legal proceedings. When allegations of child abuse or neglect are presented, the judge is authorized by statute to appoint a certified volunteer to advocate for the benefit of the subject child. CASA is the acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocate. The CASA volunteer investigates relevant facts and presents a written report, with recommendations, to the judge prior to each court hearing. Often, the CASA volunteer testifies at the hearing. In addition, the CASA volunteer will ordinarily visit regularly with the subject child and develop a supporting relationship. Over time, the volunteer may become the steadiest supportive adult in the child’s life.

Sunflower CASA started in 1988. During 2011, 98 CASA volunteers advocated for and served 160 children who were the subject of abuse or neglect allegations.

In 1999, together with the Riley County Domestic Violence Task Force, Sunflower CASA started the Sunflower Bridge Child Exchange and Visitation Center. The service provides facilities and protection in situations where child visitation or exchanges must be supervised to assure safety.  In 2011, 61 children received these services.

In 2007, in conjunction with the Riley County Police Department, SRS, Riley County Attorney’s Office, Mercy Regional Health Center, Pawnee Mental Health and the Crisis Center, Sunflower CASA started the Stepping Stones Child Advocacy Center. The service provides a special venue for multidisciplinary interviews and investigations of child sexual abuse and on-going advocacy and support for the children and their caregivers. During 2011, 91 children were seen at the center.

Sunflower Casa Project is not an anti-poverty agency. Mental illness, uncontrollable anger that results in domestic violence or excessive corporal punishment, alcoholism and improper sexual activities exist in households that can function economically. Of course, the children are without their own financial resources and are technically poor.

Sunflower CASA operates as a public-private partnership. During 2010, approximately 30 percent of its cash income came from state grants, 30 percent came from private contributions and various foundation grants, 14 percent came from the National CASA Association, 17 percent came from several local grants and 9 percent came from the Manhattan Social Services Board grant now under attack by members of the City Commission.

As recently reported in the New York Times, The American Academy of Pediatrics has, based upon two decades of scientific research, issued the following policy statement:

“Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality and disparities in health.”

In a city as large as Manhattan, the many children who need CASA help and the many volunteers who need to be trained require that the cost be spread among the greatest number of people by providing governmental financial aid at every level to supplement non-governmental financial support.

Lawrence Pollack, a CASA volunteer, lives at 1841 Fairchild Ave.

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