Local program that helps children could lose funding

Posted at: 01/28/2013 11:30 AM
Updated at: 01/28/2013 6:16 PM
By: Christine VanTimmeren

So why does Governor Cuomo want to cut funding to an organization that helps children here and across the state?

The program called CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates. The non-profit group helps children involved in neglect or abuse cases.

News10NBC called the governor Monday to find out why he wants to cut all $800,000 that funds the organization, but so far, the governor nor his office has responded.

Imagine the fear a child feels when they're forced from their home because of neglect from their parents. Their case workers are overburdened, judges are often too busy to look closer at cases and that's where CASA fills the gap. They look out for the well being of the child and often it means the difference between a happy child and one who struggles for the rest of their life. So why cut funding to this program?

News10NBC's Christine VanTimmeren said, “If you had a chance to go and talk to Governor Cuomo and plead your case, why would you tell him this money is so important?”

LaShunda Leslie-Smith, CASA Executive Director , said, “Well I  would tell Governor Cuomo this money is so important because there are hundreds of kids, thousands of kids across this state who are depending on having a CASA advocate on their behalf.”

So News10NBC called the governor to tell him what Leslie-Smith said. Unfortunately, News10NBC did not hear back from the governor or anyone in his office. Here in Monroe County, CASA helps more than 200 children every year and all 60 advocates are volunteers.

Leslie-Smith said, “Our CASA volunteers are then able to gather information, take that information back to the judge, to help that judge make solid decisions about permanency for children.”

CASA is a statewide program, with 30 counties participating. $800,000 dollars is split between them. Monroe County gets $30,000. But according to Governor Cuomo's latest budget proposal, that funding is non-existent, meaning 15% of CASA's $220,000 annual budget will be gone.

News10NBC's Christine VanTimmeren said, “We have a choice here. We have to balance a budget that we need to make work for everyone in the state and this is the place that we found to cut that money. In your mind is this still not the right place to cut?”

Leslie-Smith said, “Anytime cuts are made to programs that service children, vulnerable children, children who could ultimately end up costing you more money down the road if they aren't provided with the services they need in advance, if at any point that happens, that's a bad cut.”

And volunteers like Linda Delaney agree.

Linda Delaney, CASA Volunteer, said, “I understand the governor needing to balance the budget and I think he's doing some good things in that regard, but it's really too bad to see cuts to an organization like CASA.”

CASA says they found out about the funding cut just before Christmas. They've been working on ways to make up for it ever since. News10NBC will continue to try to get an answer from the governor on this.

There are major consequences to the funding cut. It could mean cuts to staff, fewer children being helped and cuts to volunteer recruitment. In Monroe County, CASA leaders have already scheduled to more fundraisers for this year. For more about the organization or to sign up to volunteer, click here.